Newsmaker: U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan
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ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you very much for being with us, Mr. Secretary-General.
KOFI ANNAN: Thank you very much.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: President Bush has pledged $200 million towards a global AIDS fund that has been your priority. Is that enough?
KOFI ANNAN: I think as the president himself said, this was a fund contribution and there is probably some more to come. Obviously, our target is to get $7 to $10 billion additional money applied to the epidemic, and I would hope that the president’s action today would energize other leaders and other people in society to come on board. As you know, the fund is open to governments, private companies, civil society foundations, and individuals. But I think we launched it today, and I think it was an important beginning.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The president also said that he – that the fund should respect intellectual property rights as a way to make sure there are incentives to produce new drugs. Does that mean if a country in Africa, for example, wants to use generic drugs to treat people, that they couldn’t use the fund’s money?
KOFI ANNAN: No, I don’t think it means that. I believe the message the president was trying to get across is that the intellectual property regime has to be respected so the pharmaceutical companies will have the incentive to continue their research to produce medication, cure, and vaccine for diseases like AIDS, and that without that incentive, they will not do it.
And I myself have had the opportunity to discuss this with the seven largest pharmaceutical companies, but they also have accepted that while they need incentive to produce results and medication, the medication and medicine should also get to the poor. And I think this is also one of the reasons why they are reducing the prices considerably, and some of them are even giving away the medicines free of charge. But we should be able to buy generic medication, and we should be able to offer treatment to those who have been hardest hit by the disease.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Before I get into – we get into how the fund’s going to function, let me ask you generally, you’ve made this, you’ve said this is my priority, getting this fund going. Are you sensing in the world the feeling of emergency about the catastrophe that is engulfing Southern Africa that you, yourself, see?
KOFI ANNAN: I think in the past year there has been a great sea change. We have been able to raise awareness and mobilize the world population and particularly the African leaders. When we met in Abuja two weeks ago, I made it clear that if we are going to win this battle against AIDS, we need leadership. And as the leaders of these countries, themselves, we can provide it.
We need leadership all across from the North and South, and so I was very encouraged by the strong support of President Bush for this effort. And I have reason to believe that all the leaders in Europe and others will come on board. In fact, President Chirac of France made a strong statement this morning supporting the approach and the fund after President Bush and I and President Obsanje launched the fund in Washington.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Secretary General, who will administer the money? Who will make the key decisions that have to be made about this – with this kind of money?
KOFI ANNAN: We will have a board that will oversee the money and take the decisions. The board will include representatives from donor governments, from recipient governments, a civil society, including those organizations fighting the AIDS epidemic, people from the private sector and the international organization.
There will be a small secretariat attached to this – that will do the day-to-day administration. But the funds will be handled by the World Bank; they will do the banking responsibilities. And of course there will be a scientific advisory body attached to it to ensure that we are aiming for the right result, and, of course, we would ensure that we are effective and we are getting value for money, and that the funds are reaching the population and the people who are in desperate need. And we would also try to mobilize people at the community level.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And the specific decisions – as you know, there’s a debate about how, especially if you don’t raise the full $7 to $10 billion you want, how much goes to prevention, how much goes to treatment with the anti-retroviral drugs. Who makes those decisions, how you fund what programs?
KOFI ANNAN: I think we are setting up a single global fund with several windows. It will be a fund for AIDS and infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, as well as malaria. I have no doubt that some governments will target their contribution – that we want it used only for AIDS. Others may want it used for tuberculosis. And I hope others will give us flexibility to use our funds as we see fit.
And I think the ability to draw on the fund will depend on the quality of program governments have met. And we are working with governments, and I encourage all of them to draw up national plans for eradication of fight against AIDS disease. And, of course, the quality of those programs will play a role. We have also asked the governments to work with [non-governmental organizations], work with community groups, and we will give the money to those programs that we believe are going to be-are likely to be most effective.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How much money do you have to get to move into the treatment with the anti-virals? For example, let’s say you only raise $3 or $4 billion. Will you just have to concentrate on prevention and not get into the drugs with this fund?
KOFI ANNAN: That will be a judgment that the board of the fund will have to make; it would be presumptuous of me to take that decision for them.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And finally, Mr. Secretary-general, briefly, what’s the next step with AIDS fund, when will it go into action?
KOFI ANNAN: I think that the highlight will come at the General Assembly, special session on AIDS on the 25th of June here in New York. We are expecting quite a lot of heads of state to come in here. I hope between now and then governments will have time to determine how much they are going to contribute to the fund. And some would either make announcements before they get here or use a General Assembly session to announce their contributions, but I do expect strong support for the fund at the General Assembly.
And, of course, the G-8, they’re meeting at the end of July, would also be taking up this issue. And so either governments – some of them – will announce before June or here in New York in June, and some may want to do it in general. But I trust they will all — and urge that they all pay into one fund.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Secretary-general, thank you very much for being with us.
KOFI ANNAN: Thank you very much, and have a good day.