HL Deb 01 December 2004 vol 667 cc461-3

Baroness Northover asked Her Majesty's Government:

What further action they propose to take in the light of the increasing severity of the AIDS epidemic.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister launched the UK's Call for Action on HIV/AIDS a year ago. We will spend at least £1.5 billion over the next three years and will make AIDS the centrepiece of our G8 and European Union presidencies next year.

Baroness Northover

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply and I welcome what the Government and, in particular, what she and the Secretary of State have done. But does the noble Baroness agree that far greater international efforts will be required, given that AIDS has killed millions in Africa, is spreading rapidly across Asia and is rising at its fastest in eastern Europe? On a more positive note, UK patients have lived with AIDS for more than 20 years because of drug treatment. Can the noble Baroness tell us what efforts are now being made to speed up the approval, production and distribution of cheap medicines to help to stem the disaster elsewhere?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, about the importance of co-ordinated international efforts. I also agree with her about the scale of infection. World Health Organisation pre-qualification was mentioned on the Radio 4 "Today" programme this morning. Perhaps I may explain to noble Lords that developing countries do not have the expertise or a regulatory regime in relation to these drugs, and so the WHO carries out the pre-screening, which means that the country in question can then endorse the decision. There has been a problem with some of the paperwork but not with the drugs themselves. I am pleased to be able to advise the House that that problem has now been resolved in two cases, and we shall continue to work with the WHO so that it can be resolved as a matter of urgency.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, I am sure that nevertheless the Government should be congratulated on their funding for AIDS. But does my noble friend agree with the report of the Africa All-Party Parliamentary Group on AIDS? Does she agree that its recommendations should be implemented—in particular, the one that says that DfID should lead a coherent attempt on the part of all UK government departments to support efforts to fight AIDS?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I agree with that recommendation. Indeed, my noble friend may recall that when we launched our strategy in July last year, that was one of the recommendations. DfID works very closely with the Department of Health, the DTI and the FCO. An informal working party is due to be set up and will meet early in the new year.

Lord Elton

My Lords, does the substantive answer that the noble Baroness has just given mean that the news on the "Today" programme—that is, that a large proportion of the medicines intended to curb AIDS are substandard and cannot be used—was misleading or was she referring to some other débâcle?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, I was referring to that report, which was misleading in the sense that the WHO needs documentation which allows it to look at the drugs on behalf of developing countries. Some of that documentation, but not the drugs, has been faulty. So some of the companies have withdrawn the documentation, they have looked at it again and have resubmitted it. In two cases, the documentation has now been passed; in other cases, we are waiting for the resubmission of the documentation.

Baroness Greengross

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that women now make up almost half of all AIDS victims. But is she also aware that it is usually women—often grandparents and sometimes, post-conflict, very young widows—who can be punitively treated and who are left to pick up the pieces of their community as well as their family? What more can we do to help them, especially with their caring roles, often for young children?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right. In fact, when I was preparing for this Question, I was staggered to find that in Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa, 75 per cent of all young people infected with HIV/AIDS are girls. So this is a huge burden on families and on those young women, and of course there are many reasons for that. We are doing a number of different things. In Pakistan, we funded a family protection project and, in Malawi, we are funding a victim support unit that provides advice and counselling to women. But we also have to work with men because many women are getting these diseases from men who, for example, have several partners or the women are involved in prostitution. So it is important that men engage in safe sex as well.

Lord McColl of Dulwich

My Lords, as the incidence of AIDS has been reduced in Uganda from 31 per cent to 5 per cent by adopting the policy of ABC—abstinence, be faithful in marriage and condoms—through a comprehensive approach, why do the Government continue to say that abstinence does not work? If the Government go on saying that, do they not need a tutorial on the facts of life?

Baroness Amos

My Lords, it is really important to look at the context. In Uganda, ABC with leadership and very good awareness-raising has been important. We have said absolutely clearly that abstinence-only programmes will not work. All the research demonstrates that. When young people are already engaged in sexual activity, there is very little point then telling them to abstain. It is a matter of looking at the issue in the round and coming up with solutions that are appropriate for that particular situation.

Lord Hylton

My Lords—

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, it is time to move to the next Question. Due to the power failure, the clock stopped; so Questions should finish at 25 minutes on the clock instead of 30.

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