Aids virus discoverer addresses African business summit

Drugs alone will not help Africa beat HIV/Aids, one of the scientists who discovered the virus that causes the disease said on Thursday at an African business summit.

Robert Gallo said research—not just on the development of antiviral drugs to fight the disease or a vaccine to prevent it—but on their proper use among various populations, has been the “forgotten or unspoken word” in HIV/Aids policy making.

Merely providing drugs to countries battling HIV/Aids “is not scientifically sound”, Gallo said.

“It’s going to give rise to multi-drug resistant strains.”

Gallo is the head of the Institute of Human Virology. The centre at the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute researches viruses that cause HIV/Aids and other diseases, and is a partner in United States President George Bush’s emergency plan for HIV/Aids relief in Africa, known as Pepfar.

He spoke at the US-Africa Business Summit being held by the Corporate Council on Africa, which represents 85% of US private investment on the continent. Six heads of state are among the more than 2 000 attending the four-day summit.

Gallo called HIV/Aids the “greatest microbial threat in the history of mankind” and warned that if the private sector does not “invest in the health of the African people now, there will be little to invest in”.

HIV/Aids is the leading cause of death in Africa.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the most seriously affected region in the world and is home to more than 60% of all people infected with the HI virus that causes HIV/Aids. Last year, 2,3-million people in sub-Saharan Africa died of HIV/Aids, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on Aids.

Gallo and Merck vice president Jeff Sturchio, whose company is testing a vaccine, said a vaccine is still years away.

Gallo also called on the Bush administration to use some of the money being spent on bioterror preparedness to expand its HIV/Aids relief plan to America’s inner cities, noting neighbourhoods near his centre have similar infection rates as some areas of Africa.

The expansion will give researchers and medical professionals real-world experience in dealing with the virus and “go a long way to preparing for any kind of microbe”.

The expansion will also show the developing world “we are one with them and not too proud to have our own Pepfar”.

World Bank chief Paul Wolfowitz, who was to speak later on Thursday, said his recent African tour revealed a sense of self-reliance among those he visited on the troubled continent.

“This was true from presidents and ministers to impoverished village communities and poor farmers,” Wolfowitz said in a statement released before he addressed the summit.

“Everywhere, I found people who had a real willingness to work hard, intelligence, energy, and a can-do attitude. Africa is a continent on the move.”

Wolfowitz, who had been the second-highest official at the Pentagon and a prime architect of the Iraq war, has said African development must be the bank’s top priority. He completed the four-nation tour on Saturday, saying new leadership on the troubled continent was creating opportunities for partnerships with wealthy

countries.

In his first international travel as the new leader of the World Bank, Wolfowitz spent seven days in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Rwanda and South Africa.

Wolfowitz’ trip followed an agreement by the Group of Eight industrialised nations to write-off more than $40-billion (â,¬33,15-billion) of debt owed by the poorest nations, many in sub-Saharan Africa. Much of the cancelled debt was owed to international institutions such as the World Bank.

The agreement is part of a British-led effort to lift Africa out of poverty.

Next month, the G8 is to meet in Scotland, where battling poverty is expected to be a key topic. - Sapa-AP

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