SADC HIV financing project hailed
By Moses Magadza
THE Permanent Secretary, Health Services in the Ministry of Health in Zambia, Dr Jabbin Mulwanda, has praised a two-year SADC-initiated project meant to advocate for the use of domestic resources to respond to HIV and AIDS.
Zambia is among seven Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states, including Tanzania, Malawi, Mauritius, Seychelles, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, that have been receiving funding over the past two years under a joint proposal titled ‘Strengthening the capacity of SADC member states national parliaments to facilitate the implementation of regional, continental and international commitments on HIV and AIDS sustainable financing’.
The proposal, developed by the SADC Parliamentary Forum (SADC PF), is one of 10 meant to reverse a situation in which many responses to HIV and AIDS epidemics are locally owned but externally funded.
Asked how successful and necessary the project had been for Zambia, the former director-general of the National HIV/AIDS/STI/TB Council of Zambia was effusive in his praise for the project.
“To be honest with you, never mind the short time it has been in existence, it’s been very successful in that it achieved the main objectives it was meant to achieve: to create awareness among members of parliament and to get their buy in on the various initiatives on sustainable financing of HIV.”
Mulwanda said there were many positive ripple effects from the project.
“Obviously, we have parliaments coming and going; people being voted in and out – which can be a challenge. We need a similar project to build the capacity of civil servants that work with parliamentarians to ensure they carry on the role of imparting knowledge to the new MPs that come to join parliament. Even when MPs leave, they go with the knowledge acquired and continue to be leaders in their communities even though theymay no longer be in Parliament. They can still influence opinions.”
He cautioned that putting in place sustainable financing mechanisms takes time.
“It is a process, not an event. The real benefits might take a long time to come. We have started and it’s a question of time. What we managed to achieve will remain.”
He said activities supported through the SADC Parliamentary Forum under the Project were beginning to bear fruit.
“We have had engagements with members of parliament to orient them and discuss how the country could sustain financing of the HIV response given that external financing has declined and is now unpredictable,” he said.
The permanent secretary said as proof that Zambian MPs were now engaged, they had begun to ask tough questions in parliament during question time.
“The Parliamentary Committee on Health and Social Services took the issue of HIV sustainable financing and called upon various stakeholders to make submissions on the best way forward HIV sustainable financing mechanisms. As a result they produced a report and recommendations that are really positive for government to implement.”
He added: “After a long time of back and forth, the social health insurance will be introduced in parliament during this sitting because parliamentarians and ministers have been sensitised about the importance of sustainable financial of not just HIV but health in general.
Our engagement with parliamentarians has been meaningful.”
Zambian parliamentarians work with their local councils. Mulwanda said encouraging movement, albeit small-scale, had been noted at constituency level.
“We have seen that some local councils have begun budgeting for HIV activities in their budgets. This never used to happen. We have also seen that because of the awareness created around sustainable financing, people have started to engage contractors of capital projects which have an allocation for HIV in the contracts given.
Respective local councils are demanding from the contractors to carry out or implement the HIV component of their contracts where their projects are taking place. We have seen that good things can come out of engaging with MPs.”
He attributed the successful passing of some of Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) related Bills to sensitisation done to the members of parliament with the support of SADC PF.
This has been a major concern of the SADC HIV Sustainable Financing Project focusing on how to enable low and middle income countries access essential medicines at reduced costs.
Mulwanda said he would like to see the various stakeholders sit and share lessons drawn from implementing the project and figuring out what else could have been done better.
“We need to see how we can take the things we have started under this project all the way to fruition. For instance, we have passed the TRIPS Bills, how do we actually benefit from them? That’s another issue altogether. There are many countries that have passed these laws but that have not used them.
How can we create demand for them to benefit from the enactment of those Bills? We need to move beyond having laws to actually benefiting from them.”
Ellen Mubanga, the public private sector coordinator at NAC Zambia, said that the awareness raising among MPs under the project, enabled parliamentarians to understand the bills that were introduced to be passed into law so as to make Zambia compliant to the TRIPS flexibilities
“We have been able to work on those laws this year and parliament has passed four of the five bills,” Mubanga said.
In Zambia, bills become laws after the president has assented to them, paving the way the development of policies and regulations to enable the country use the TRIPS flexibilities in order to have access to essential medicines, especially under HIV where the accessibility of ARVs is a huge challenge.
Under the World Trade Organisation (WTO), multinational companies have rights in terms of patents of medicines, trademarks and access to genetic resources that include plants and raw materials used in the development of medicines.
The WTO has since entered an agreement with multinational companies to allow for flexibilities for a while.
TRIPS allow low and middle income countries to access essential medicines by putting in place certain laws to allow investment in a particular area. India has benefitted mightily from TRIPS and today produces much of the drugs used in the HIV response.
Observers see the development of TRIPS related laws in Zambia as a huge step in the right direction given that few countries in the low and middle income bracket have such laws.
Given that the SADC HIV Sustainable Financing Project seeks to support HIV sustainable financing, countries are encouraged to ensure that TRIPS-related laws are in place.
Mubanga said that once the law on patents has been signed, patenting will not affect production as people can have access to production of essential medicines and nobody can claim ownership.
“Through the project, MPs in Zambia gained a better appreciation of the national HIV response, the declining external financing for HIV.
The project has opened up discussions, especially with MPs.”
Going forward, the NAC in Zambia plans to intensify its engagement with MPs over the new targets around HIV to ensure that the MPs are brought up to speed.
*Moses Magadza is Communications and Advocacy Specialist at SADC PF.
UPBEAT: Dr Jabbin Mulwanda Photo: Contributed