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[RIO DE JANEIRO] Countries in Africa, Asia, South America and the former Soviet Union are teaming up to promote technological cooperation in an effort to boost their ability to tackle HIV/AIDS.


The initiative focuses on research and development of drugs, vaccines and microbicides, as well as diagnostic kits and other aspects of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.


Representatives of Brazil, China, Nigeria, Russia, Thailand and Ukraine gathered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, last month (25-28 January) at the first meeting of the Technological Network on HIV/AIDS Cooperation. Cuba and India attended as observers, and Cuba has since formally joined the group.


Conceived and coordinated by the Brazilian Ministry of Health, in association with civil society organisations, the initiative was set up in 2004 with a US$1 million grant from the Ford Foundation. This seed money is intended to be used to the promote collaboration and technology transfer between the countries involved.

Last month's meeting had two objectives: to establish the network's procedural rules and to identify and discuss areas of potential collaboration, as well as a framework to support bilateral and multilateral agreements for technology transfer.

Those present agreed to cooperate on the research, development and production of generic antiretroviral drugs, laboratory supplies, vaccines, microbicides, condoms and laboratory kits for diagnosing, monitoring and studying HIV infection. The network will also focus on treatments for opportunistic infections affecting patients with HIV.


According to Ricardo Kuchenbecker, an advisor to the Brazilian Ministry of Health who is based at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, the initial meeting allowed member countries to identify their needs and the technology they have to offer.


"The main outcome was the evident mutual interest in multilateral cooperation, in spite of the lack of tradition and the cultural and language barriers," Kuchenbecker told SciDev.Net.

In one collaboration, Brazil, China and Russia will work together to develop and produce generic versions of antiretroviral drugs. According to Kuchenbecker, the partnership relies on each nation's strengths. Brazil has the infrastructure for drug distribution but lacks Russia's capacity for large-scale production. China, meanwhile, has developed and is willing to share the drug's active ingredients.

"[The countries involved] will control the whole chain of production and also retain the intellectual property, so that each can have access to the drugs," explains Kuchenbecker.

Mariângela Simão, coordinator of Brazil's International Cooperation Programme for HIV/AIDS, says the network will help to build long-term sustainable strategies to the AIDS problem.

"The collaborating countries already have some development in the area and will now be able to make joint efforts," Simão told SciDev.Net. "Our technical capacity will improve. We will receive and develop technologies in strategic areas and share retroviral drugs."