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Archive for October 3rd, 2010

Thousands of Congolese refugees living in Burundi and vice-versa are set to return home

Posted by African Press International on October 3, 2010

In Brief: Thousands of DRC, Burundi refugees to return home

Photo: IRIN
Thousands of Congolese refugees living in Burundi and vice-versa are set to return home (file photo)

BUJUMBURA, 28 September 2010 (IRIN) – The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) will begin helping thousands of Burundian refugees living in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and vice-versa to return home from 5 and 20 October respectively.

The voluntary facilitated repatriation, which initially involves 5,000 Burundians living in DRC and 2,000 DRC refugees living in Burundi, according to a UNHCR statement, follows the December 2009 signing of tripartite agreements by the two states and the agency.

UNHCR spokesman Bernard Ntwari told IRIN the DRC refugees would return to the most secure areas in North and South Kivu, provinces still ravaged by armed conflict.

Burundi hosts some 41,327 refugees and asylum-seekers; of them, 40,458 are from DRC. According to UNHCR estimates, some 15,666 Burundian refugees live in DRC.

jb/am/mw source.irinnews

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Girls call in to tell us what is happening [such as] men who do not want to wear condoms”

Posted by African Press International on October 3, 2010

EAST AFRICA: Community radio reaches refugees with HIV messages

Photo: BillyV/Flickr

NGARA, 1 October 2010 (PlusNews) – An FM radio station broadcasting from the western Tanzanian town of Ngara is bringing vital HIV prevention information to thousands of Burundian and Rwandan refugees living in the region.

A weekly 30-minute HIV-focused programme entitled, You and Me, Together We Can, is broadcast on Radio Kwizera to an estimated 90,000 refugees living in camps in northwestern Tanzania. Its coverage goes beyond the camps, reaching more than six million people in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania.

“During our health broadcasts, there is real interaction with the people,” said Father Damas Missanga, head of Radio Kwizera, which was founded in 1995 by the NGO Jesuit Refugee Service. “They call us and send SMS questions; we answer them on air.”

“Girls call in to tell us what is happening [such as] men who do not want to wear condoms,” said Jean-Paul Basabose, the show’s host.

According to the station’s editor-in-chief, Emmanuel Buhohela, the programme covers a raft of HIV prevention issues, reflecting the “social realities” of the refugee communities.

“We talk a lot about sex with [underage] girls,” he said. “We tell pregnant women to go to a hospital to give birth because it is still very much the mentality that it must be done at home.”

The UN Refugee Agency has reported incidents of sexual exploitation of children in Tanzanian refugee camps.

According to a 2008 study conducted among Congolese refugees in Tanzania, radio broadcast messages helped promote awareness of HIV risk within the refugee community. The authors recommended using radio broadcasts to reach out to wider populations, and to strengthen the focus on safer sex education for both HIV-negative and HIV-positive people.

Basabose noted that the station had built up a trusting relationship with the community, enabling refugees to write, call or SMS the station without fear of recrimination.

Eric, a refugee in Ngara, said he listened to Radio Kwizera all day and felt “the information is reliable”.

The radio station also hosts weekly broadcasts on repatriation and refugee rights. “We convey messages of reconciliation, peace with emphasis on the dangers of ethnic division and the effects of war We explain how and why it is necessary to forgive,” said the station’s editor-in-chief Buhohela.

Radio Kwizera intends to expand its transmission coverage to areas bordering Lake Victoria, where fishing communities are among those most affected by HIV/AIDS.

ab/aw/kr source.irinnews

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The patent pool hopes to bring down the cost of ARVs

Posted by African Press International on October 3, 2010

HIV/AIDS: Patent pool gets first licence but drug companies still not on board

Photo: Casey Johnson/IRIN

NAIROBI, 1 October 2010 (PlusNews) – The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has become the first patent holder to join the recently created Medicines Patent Pool, but unless other patent holders follow suit, the NIH’s move will not increase access to HIV treatment.

By licensing the life-prolonging antiretroviral (ARV), darunavir, to the patent pool, the NIH has made the technology to produce it available for the benefit of low- and middle-income countries. However, this does not mean generic versions of the drug can now be manufactured and sold in these countries as additional patents on darunavir are still held by the pharmaceutical company Tibotec, part of Johnson & Johnson.

“The licence is an important first step that shows the US is committed to bringing down the cost of ARVs, but pharmaceutical companies must move forward quickly and share their licences using the same positive terms of license as the NIH,” Asia Russell of the US-based Health Global Access Project (Health GAP) told IRIN/PlusNews.

Darunavir is a protease inhibitor usually used for patients who have developed resistance to older drugs. It is recommended for use in combination with another ARV, but the cost of darunavir alone for one patient for one year is US$1,095, according to the medical NGO, Mdecins Sans Frontires; in comparison, generic first-line combinations cost as little as $90 per patient per year.

The Medicines Patent Pool – established in July by UNITAID, an international health financing agency – aims to create a common space for patent-holders to license their technology for use by generic manufacturers in exchange for royalties. Proponents of the pool argue that not only does it have the potential to reduce the price of existing ARVs, but it could also stimulate the development of urgently needed new medicines and formulations such as paediatric ARVs and fixed-dose combinations.

“The US is one of the main financers of the development of AIDS drugs, and is also home to most of the pharmaceutical companies we are hoping to collaborate with,” Ellen ‘t Hoen, head of the medicines patent pool, told IRIN/PlusNews. “So this is a very significant step; if this patent pool succeeds, the positive benefits – especially to sub-Saharan Africa – will be enormous.”

She noted that as ARV regimens were combinations of different drugs with patents owned by multiple players, it was of the utmost importance that other patent-holders joined the pool. “We are in talks with the holders of the additional patents on darunavir to share their patents under agreeable terms,” she said.

UNITAID has held talks with several drug developers, including Tibotec, Gilead and Merck, all of whom have shown “considerable interest”.

“Our task is to get these drugs to as wide a geographical scope as possible, and ideally that means patent holders should be willing to provide licences for use by low- and middle-income countries, as defined by the World Bank,” ‘t Hoen added.

According to Health GAP’s Russell, the sharing of intellectual property urgently needs to be combined with increased funding to scale-up HIV treatment to all those who need it.

“Sixty-four percent of people who need ARVs still have no access, and increased HIV funding is necessary to provide for them,” she said, adding that the USA needed to build on its commitment to the patent pool by meeting its commitments to adequately fund the US president’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR, and the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

kr/ks/cb source.irinnews

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The Global Fund needs at least US$13 billion to maintain programmes over the next three years

Posted by African Press International on October 3, 2010

HIV/AIDS: New ways to bridge the AIDS funding gap

Photo: Edgar Mwakaba/IRIN

JOHANNESBURG, 30 September 2010 (PlusNews) – Money, or the lack of it, is likely to be the deciding factor in meeting global health targets. This was one of the main messages to emerge from both the recent Millennium Development Goals (MDG) summit in New York, and the latest report by UNAIDS on progress towards achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care.

After years of steady increases in funding for the HIV/AIDS response, the global economic downturn of the last two years has seen most donor countries cut or flat-line their contributions.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which provides a fifth of all financing for AIDS, is hosting a donor meeting in New York on 4 and 5 October. The aim is to raise US$13 to $20 billion to fund existing programmes for the next three years and support new ones, but activists warn that even the minimal amount needed to fund existing programmes may be unattainable if the Global Fund remains largely dependant on contributions from recession-hit developed countries.

Innovative financing mechanisms are attracting growing support from NGOs and some governments as alternative ways to bridge the funding gap. IRIN/PlusNews has compiled a list of six such initiatives, the first four of which are already being implemented, while the last two are still on the drawing board.

1. Air Tax UNITAID, a pioneer in innovative health financing, has raised nearly one and a half billion US dollars since 2006, mainly from a small levy on air tickets bought in 34 participating countries, mostly in Africa. The levy ranges from $1 to $2 on economy-class tickets, and up to $40 on business- and first-class fares.

In partnership with organizations like the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative (CHAI) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UNITAID negotiates price reductions on second-line and paediatric antiretroviral (ARV) drugs and other medicines, ensuring that the money goes further.

2. MASSIVEGOOD Started by the non-profit Millennium Foundation for Innovative Finance in March 2010, the project takes the air tax a step further by inviting travellers to make a voluntary “micro” contribution of $2 towards global health, including HIV/AIDS, when booking a plane ticket, hotel room or rental car through participating travel agencies and travel websites.

The aim is to raise one billion dollars over the next four years, most of which will be disbursed through UNITAID.

3. Debt2Health initiative Begun by the Global Fund in 2007 to divert the large amounts of domestic resources developing countries spend on repaying debt to fighting disease. The Global Fund brokers agreements in which “creditor” countries forgo repayment of a portion of their loans on condition that recipients invest an agreed-upon amount in Global Fund-approved programmes.

Germany agreed to allow Indonesia and Pakistan to convert millions of dollars of debt into investments in HIV-services and public health interventions, and Australia cancelled $71 million owed by Indonesia on condition that it pay half that amount to the Global Fund for tuberculosis programmes. Other countries have yet to follow suit.

4. (RED) Launched in 2006 by Irish singer and musician Bono, (RED) partners with major brands like American Express, Apple, Gap and Starbucks to design and market special (RED) products. Half the profits from (RED) sales go to the Global Fund to finance HIV/AIDS projects in Africa. The initiative has raised US$150 million so far, and is the Global Fund’s largest private sector contributor.

5. Currency transaction levy (CTL) or “Global Solidarity Levy” A number of countries and civil society organizations have been advocating the introduction of a small levy on all currency transactions to help finance global health.

Supporters argue that financial institutions make quick profits from buying and selling huge amounts of world currencies, and a tiny tax on these transactions could make a big difference to funding for health and other development priorities.

The intergovernmental Leading Group on Innovative Financing for Development, estimates that a transaction tax of 0.005 percent on the four largest currencies the US dollar, yen, euro and sterling could generate $33 billion a year. The International Monetary Fund recently said such a tax was feasible.

6. Financial transaction tax (FTT) A proposed levy of 0.05 percent on all financial transactions, not only currency transactions. It would take universal participation to work, but could generate much larger sums than the CTL about $600-$700 billion a year – if implemented globally.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero backed the proposal at the recent MDG summit. Supporters of the FTT argue that it would produce revenue to help the world’s poor, and stabilize the financial market by discouraging speculative trading; opponents say it would slow global economic development.

ks/he source.irinnews

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