Gordon Brown, Patricia Hewitt and Valerie Amos: What we must do to end suffering

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The Independent Online

Today, 30,000 children will needlessly die. And each day and every day - until we overcome the scourges of HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria - 30,000 children will die.

The sad fact is that one in 13 newborn children in the poorest countries will die before the age of one. And in sub-Saharan Africa the outlook is even worse: every sixth child dies before their fifth birthday.

We now know that across the world more than 40 million people are living with HIV/Aids. And as a result 25 million children will have lost a parent by 2010. Already, life expectancy in Africa has plummeted from 62 to 47 years because of Aids.

Tuberculosis, a wholly curable disease, will kill two million people this year; and malaria - which can be prevented by the use of a bed net costing only a few dollars - will kill another one million.

This arithmetic, this toll of unnecessary suffering, demands much more than sympathy: it is a call for bold and urgent action at the G8 summit in Evian: action by governments everywhere to research prevention, treatment and cure, and to improve the delivery of health services; action by the governments of advanced economies to fund drugs, treatments and healthcare systems to save the lives of millions in the developing world; and action to lower the costs of high-quality generic and brand-name drugs needed by poor countries - in particular, we must make progress on Trade Related Intellectual Property rights (Trips). So in a unilateral move backdated to April that we hope other countries will follow, Britain will offer tax relief for medical and pharmaceutical research into HIV/Aids, TB and malaria.

The international community reaffirmed in Johannesburg last year its commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, including reducing child mortality by two-thirds and cutting maternal mortality by three-quarters. But these goals cannot be achieved without more financial assistance to developing countries.

That is why Britain has proposed an International Finance Facility to double aid and halve global poverty. Such a facility could, at best, invest $15bn (£9bn) extra a year in action against Aids and other diseases and, by breaking from the one or two-year offerings and guaranteeing long-term predictable funds to 2015, allow reforming countries to plan the building of modern healthcare systems.

President George Bush's commitment this month of an additional $15bn over five years for HIV/Aids, including up to an additional $1bn for the Global Health Fund, is to be welcomed. It is conditional on matching finance in the order of $2bn from other donors and Tony Blair has said Britain will respond.

The UK Government will build on the $200m we have already pledged to the Global Fund by providing $40m a year until 2008, bringing our total contribution to more than $280m. And this is just part of our contribution: last year alone we committed £250m for HIV/Aids in poor countries and will do more in the future. And we want other countries to make similar long-term pledges.

But we should also make progress in cutting the costs of medicines by improving access to cheaper generic and patented drugs so that poor countries can tackle the health epidemics they face.

With more to spend and cheaper drugs to buy, poor countries could, for the first time, receive the medicines they need at prices they can afford - and, for the first time too, the goals for cutting infant and maternal mortality will come within our reach. And with progress on Trips alongside increased funding, two, perhaps three people with Aids could be treated where once we could treat only one.

So the G8 Summit at Evian can make progress on three fronts - funding new research into life-saving drugs, making commitments to cut the costs of medicines before the next G8 summit, and pledging more finance to buy drugs.

Gordon Brown is Chancellor of the Exchequer, Patricia Hewitt is Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and Baroness Amos is Secretary of State for International Development

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