Last week I attended the UNITAID bi-annual board meeting in Geneva. As the snow fell around us, board members from key donor countries, foundations, NGOs and affected communities discussed the merits of 20 new project proposals.
UNITAID is an innovative funding mechanism set up in 2006, working to fill a critical gap in global health financing. It provides a sustained and strategic market intervention that aims both to decrease the price of medicines for priority diseases and to increase the supply of drugs and diagnostics for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The new grants will allow hundreds of thousands of children in developing countries to access better and more affordable medicines for these three diseases and help save thousands of lives a year in low-income countries.
I was especially pleased to see a focus in this round of grants on paediatric treatments. There are few child-adapted treatments available globally and the small markets mean some pharmaceutical companies have not invested in new products because the profit element is uncertain. The civil society delegations felt strongly that these diseases need to have a higher profile on the global agenda, and the board agreed. “For too long now, the global health community has done too little to meet the special needs of children living with these diseases in poor countries,” said Dr Philippe Douste-Blazy, Chairman of the UNITAID Board. “With very few child-adapted treatments available, both paediatric HIV and tuberculosis have been at risk of becoming neglected diseases”. Now the new UNITAID investment will allow the production of adapted treatments.
UNITAID is an interesting global body because most of the available funds are raised through innovative funding sources such as a small tax on air tickets. DFID, the British Department for International Development, is an important donor to UNITAID and gives funds through their standard aid budget. The UK and France between them provide around 80% of UNITAID funds. Sadly some countries, such as Spain, who were significant donors, have cut their contribution completely due to the economic downturn in Europe.
During the meeting, it came to light that an exciting US$ 16 million approved grant to the TB Alliance to support the production of appropriate paediatric TB medicine formulations. Currently, a lack of child-adapted TB medicines contributes to high morbidity among children. More details of the approved grants will be on the UNITAID website.
The last item on the Board agenda was to discuss 8 proposed ‘market entry grants’. This is the first time grants of this sort have been considered and approved. Four grants were conditionally approved (pending due diligence process). These would help manufacturers of “point-of-care” HIV diagnostic machines in the final stages of development get over the hurdles of making their products available to those in need. “These investments follow a rigorous year-long process of in-depth market intelligence led by the UNITAID Secretariat, which analysed the market for treatments and diagnostics to inform the current round of grant-making decisions,” added Dr Douste-Blazy. This work will soon be translated into lives saved through the provision of better health products that these projects will ensure.”
RESULTS UK, and other civil society organisations will be following the development of these new projects closely in 2013. RESULTS colleagues in Japan, Australia and the USA have the long term hope that these countries will become donors to UNITAID in the near future.