MINSK, Belarus - Health ministers from Eastern Europe and Central Asia adopted a Consensus Statement "HIV and TB treatment for all" on expanded and rapidly scaled-up access to affordable, quality-assured antiretroviral and TB drugs at the conclusion of the two-day Regional Consultation in Minsk, Belarus.
The countries committed to strengthen regional cooperation in order to advance access to affordable and quality medicines and deliver more cost-effective, equitable and sustainable solutions for common challenges by intensifying efforts through regional solidarity, shared responsibility and political leadership.
"Undoubtedly, the adoption of the Minsk Statement is a guarantee of our countries' openness and readiness to share experience and work together in achieving sustainable development and commitments to the Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS and WHO TB Plan in Eastern Europe for 2016-2020," said Vasiliy Zharko, Minister of Health of Belarus.
Representatives from 12 Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) countries' ministries of health - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan - endorsed the statement.
"It is a historical moment in the regional HIV and TB response," said Luiz Loures, Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS. "By joining the Minsk Statement EECA countries reaffirmed their commitment to the Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS: On the Fast-Track to Accelerate the Fight against HIV and to End the AIDS Epidemic by 2030."
The statement underlines that countries are ready to utilize all available tools to reduce the price of lifesaving drugs, including revision of procurement arrangements, such as international and pooled procurement, third-party consultation and price negotiation with generic suppliers of antiretroviral therapy and TB treatment; addressing intellectual property issues and their alignment with national legislation; and supporting local manufacture of drugs and optimizing drug regimens in line with WHO recommendations.
"The Global Fund is committed to helping countries get the most value from their investments to prevent and treat HIV and TB," said Mark Dybul, Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. "Such regional cooperation is a pragmatic approach to achieving economies of scale and ensuring access to lifesaving health products, which will enable countries to save more lives and reach more people."
Lucica Ditiu, Executive Director of the Stop TB Partnership said: "This is a timely meeting and discussion. This region suffers from very high drug-resistant TB levels, so increased access to quality assured medicines and diagnostics are essential for the TB programs."
Ditiu ensured that the Global Drug Facility will continue to support country programs - using all sources of funding and various mechanisms of engagement, including participation in local tenders - so they can access quality assured medicines and diagnostics at affordable prices. "GDF will continue to play a key role in increasing access to and scaling up the use of new anti-TB medicines, including bedaquiline and delamanid, new pediatric formulations and the rapid introduction of shorter drug-resistant TB treatment regimens," she added.
The Eastern Europe and Central Asia region is home to the fastest growing HIV epidemic and the highest levels of multidrug-resistant TB in the world. Over the last 10 years, the region has made significant strides to increase the number of people receiving treatment. Yet overall, the region continues to pay some of the highest prices for antiretroviral therapy in the world, while at the same time providing some of the lowest coverage of people on treatment. Expanding antiretroviral therapy eligibility based on WHO recommendations to test and treat will have significant cost implications for the HIV response in all countries of the region.
"This is a timely and important conference for countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia that confront still expanding epidemics of HIV and drug-resistant tuberculosis. All countries in the region should urgently use existing mechanisms - reviewed at this event - that can lead to significant decreases in prices of medicines," said Michel Kazatchkine, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
The event was hosted by the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Belarus with organizational support by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the Stop TB Partnership.
Over 160 participants from ministries of health, national experts in TB and HIV drugs procurement, experts in drug registration and drug market regulation, representatives of the pharmaceutical industry as well as partners from international organizations and civil society participated in the regional consultation.