For Immediate Release
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today called on G8 countries meeting later this week in St. Petersburg, Russia, to adopt a new 15-Point set of principles (see www.healthactionaids.org) designed to alleviate the catastrophic shortage of health workers and help build health systems in African countries.
The group also released a detailed scenario describing what such a plan might look like in action in a developing country. While several G8 countries, including the US, have identified the health worker shortage as the biggest impediment to effective use of their aid in combating AIDS and other diseases, the scope of action to actually address the shortage remains completely inadequate compared with the need.
An comprehensive plan would include increased education of African health workers (such as through distance learning), training on human rights advocacy to combat discrimination; safer equipment, essential medicines, better salaries and conditions, access to rural areas, and better use of the skills of community health workers and nurses, the group said.
"We want to paint a picture for the G8 of what an effective plan to fight the health worker shortage might look like. Developing a well-resourced, motivated health workforce could transform the face of disease in Africa. The G8 itself has endorsed goals, like universal access to AIDS treatment and the Millennium Development Goals, that can only be achieved by vastly expanding the health workforce. Yet a year after Gleneagles, where are the bold initiatives and serious investments coming from G8 countries to turn the commitments into changes on the ground? Many people are dying every day of delay. We need action now," said Eric Friedman, HIV/AIDS Policy Analyst at PHR.
The 15-point plan calls for G8 countries to increase their own domestic capacity of health workers and adopt an ethical code of conduct regarding health worker recruitment from developing countries. It calls for the G8 to invest in a long-term plan to build African health systems that would go beyond funding for AIDS, be driven by each African country, and yield immediate, as well as long-term, results.
In addition, 32 leading health leaders called today for G8 countries, including Russia and the US, to endorse and promote science-based AIDS prevention. Eastern Europe and Asia are new frontiers in the global AIDS pandemic. Driven by intravenous drug use, AIDS in many countries in the region is skyrocketing. For example, in the Russian city of Togliatti, the number of HIV-positive people grew from under 100 to over 10,000 between 2000-2005; 90% of them were injection drug users.
"Despite the controversy that access to sterile syringes inspires in some circles, scientifically, the evidence for its public health benefits is well established," say the authors of the letter.
Without proven interventions like access to sterile needles and drug substitution treatment, these epidemics are likely to further escalate in the IV drug use population and may break out into generalized epidemics throughout societies. As a matter of the right to health under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, science-backed AIDS prevention must be available to those at risk of contracting the HIV virus and those already infected.
However, the US does not yet support, either in its policies or its recommendations, access to sterile syringes, and it has curtailed its support for condoms in favor of unproven abstinence-only programs. Russia does not support drug substitution therapy, which has been proven in studies to be the most effective treatment for heroin and other opiate addiction.
Nonetheless, some non-G8 countries are on the forefront of HIV prevention among drug users. Iran, for example, administers a state-of the-art AIDS prevention program that includes country-funded needle exchange, drug substitution treatment for users, and an aggressive AIDS prevention program in its prisons, including free access to condoms.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.