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US: Kerry-Frist proposed legislation would boost US spending on global HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment

May 15, 2002

IAVI applauds substantial increase in funding
Comprehensive scope pairs exisiting initiatives with R&D for new technologies, including vaccines

15 May 2002—US Senators John Kerry and Bill Frist, MD, today unveiled proposed legislation to increase US government funding for international HIV/AIDS programs. The plan, titled the US Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Act of 2002, calls for US$4.7 billion over the next two years for a variety of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment initiatives, including a new contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Seth F. Berkley, MD, President and CEO of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), applauded the proposed legislation: "Thanks to Senators Kerry and Frist, the United States has an opportunity to take a leap forward in its response to the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. Their legislation charts a framework for the country to stake a true leadership role in working to end one of the greatest plagues of recorded time."

Dr. Berkley said the Kerry-Frist plan is significant not only for the size of the monetary commitment, but also for its comprehensive scope. "Rather than focusing on just one area, the bill rightly allocates resources to multiple priorities, each of which deserves urgent attention."

The legislation would increase US contributions to expanding access to existing prevention and treatment programs, including through the nascent Global AIDS Fund. "This money is desperately needed. Today, more than 40 million men, women and children worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS, yet basic care and life-prolonging therapies are within the reach of just a tiny fraction," Dr. Berkley said. "And as nearly 15,000 people are newly infected each day, education programs promoting safe behavior are grossly underfunded, despite the power of these interventions to slow the virus's spread."

New money for research and development

In addition to addressing immediate needs, the legislation steps up US investment in public-private partnerships to speed the search for vaccines and other new technologies to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria. "With the greatest demand for these products in the world's poorest countries, private industry cannot be expected to alone shoulder the burden of research and development. The public sector must close the gap," Dr. Berkley said.

"We applaud the Kerry-Frist plan for its commitment to AIDS vaccine research and development. A safe, effective and globally accessible vaccine to prevent HIV infection is crucial to ending the epidemic. To be sure, AIDS vaccine science has advanced in the past few years, but still the number of promising vaccine possibilities in the research pipeline is far outnumbered by the outstanding technical challenges," Dr. Berkley said. "An infusion of new money would spur progress. Today, vaccines for developing country diseases account for a miniscule share of all spending on health- and pharmaceutical-related research and development."

The proposed legislation would increase the United States' financial commitment to IAVI's public-private partnership programs to accelerate AIDS vaccine science and access. At the present time, the US government is providing US$16 million to IAVI over two years (2001-2002), and the Kerry-Frist plan authorizes an increase to $27 million for fiscal years 2003-2004. IAVI also draws major support from the governments of the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Denmark and Norway. Public sector support is critical to IAVI's goal to raise US$550 million by 2007 to pursue a diversified AIDS vaccine research and development agenda.

The legislation includes money for research on microbicides and malaria vaccines as well as for The Vaccine Fund. "The Vaccine Fund is working to expand the reach of currently available vaccines in developing countries—laying crucial infrastructure for the eventual delivery of an AIDS vaccine," Dr. Berkley said.

The Kerry-Frist legislation is an authorizing bill, meaning that if it is passed, it would authorize Congress to appropriate up to US$4.7 billion for HIV/AIDS. Actual appropriation decisions are made at a separate time, traditionally in the late summer or early fall.

"For far too long—more than 20 years—the AIDS epidemic has maintained the upper hand. It has thrived on the world's reluctance to mobilize a decisive response. We can no longer afford complacency. IAVI calls on the US Congress to swiftly approve the Kerry-Frist authorization bill and then appropriate the full funding," Dr. Berkley said.