UN Must Heed the Lessons of AIDS Pandemic to End COVID-19

In Global, Global Featured by Ged Kenslea

LOS ANGELES (June 8, 2021) After 40 years of fighting the AIDS pandemic, the overriding lesson of history is that the price of pharma greed and vaccine hoarding will be measured in human lives – unless world leaders act now. AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the world’s largest HIV/AIDS care and treatment provider globally, calls on the heads of state of wealthy countries to waive intellectual property (IP) protections on vaccines, donate surplus doses, and substantially boost funding and cooperation.


“Only by pushing the limits of conventional health policy, leadership and innovation was unbridled AIDS activism able to put the brakes on a pandemic and save millions of lives. Today, we need the same level of boldness from our leaders on COVID-19,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “With the upcoming UN High-Level Meeting on AIDS and the G7 Summit, decision-makers must recognize that just like generic antiretroviral treatment transformed AIDS, public health must supersede all other concerns on COVID-19 vaccine access to transform and halt this pandemic.”


In addition to generic antiretrovirals becoming widely available, another defining moment of AIDS history was the creation of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM). GFATM was made possible by an unparalleled level of cooperation and generosity among wealthy countries. They pledged billions of dollars and endowed it with trust and independence to invest the money wisely and effectively. The results speak for themselves – to date, GFATM has helped save 38 million lives. The time has come to use the same model to tackle COVID-19 by expanding GFATM’s mandate to include other infectious diseases.


As with AIDS, whether the world can deliver equitable vaccine access is a matter of political will. The $100 billion that would be needed to produce enough vaccines for everyone is a fraction of the trillions of dollars in economic output that is being lost as the pandemic drags on. The IP waiver is a matter of policy that can be changed at any moment. And the expansion of the GFATM mandate is a smart use of a model that already works. None of these steps are impossible or even particularly difficult if world leaders choose to do the right thing and commit to protecting global health.


With more than 3.7 million global deaths due to COVID-19, the UN and governments are obligated to overcome the immorality of vaccine rationing by adapting the lessons of the AIDS pandemic to defeat COVID-19 and Vaccinate Our World.


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