Feature story

First meeting of BRICS health ministers brings new leadership to global health

11 July 2011

L to R: Director-General of WHO Margaret Chan, Minister of Health and Family Welfare India Ghulam Nabi Azad, Minister of Health Brazil Alexandre Padilha, Minister of Health China Chen Zhu, Deputy Minister of Health and Social Development Russia Veronika Skvortsova, Minister of Health South Africa Aaron Motsoaledi, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé.
Credit: UNAIDS

Universal access to medicines was a key topic of discussion at a meeting today of health ministers from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) in Beijing, China. The meeting, hosted by the Government of China, aimed to identify opportunities for BRICS countries to promote wider access to affordable, quality-assured medicines, with a view to reaching the Millennium Development Goals and other public health challenges.

“The five BRICS countries are bringing a new voice, a new perspective and new solutions to today’s global challenges,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé, who participated in the First BRICS Health Ministers’ Meeting, together with WHO Director-General Margaret Chan. “It is a voice with incredible economic, technological and innovative strength behind it and, at the same time, a voice intimately connected to the needs and interests of the developing world,” he added. 

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are home to 40% of the global population and nearly one third of all people living with HIV in the world.  While the five BRICS countries have made significant progress in expanding HIV prevention and treatment services for their populations, the goal of universal access remains a critical challenge: In four of five BRICS countries, for example, only one third of people who need HIV treatment are receiving it.

A “Beijing Declaration,” issued on 11 July and signed by ministers of health from the five BRICS countries, underscored the importance of technology transfer among the BRICS countries, as well as with other developing countries, to enhance their capacity to produce affordable medicines and commodities. The Declaration also emphasized the critical role of generic medicines in expanding access to antiretroviral medicines for all.

Access to affordable medicines is a fundamental element to bring health services to scale, especially for the poor

Chen Zhu, China’s Health Minister

By signing the Declaration, leaders committed to working together to preserve the provisions contained in the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health—provisions that allow for countries to overcome intellectual property rights restrictions on medicines in the interest of public health.

“Access to affordable medicines is a fundamental element to bring health services to scale, especially for the poor,” said Chen Zhu, China’s Health Minister.

The five BRICS countries face similar health challenges, including a double burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases, inequitable access to health services and growing health care costs. Through collective action and influence, the BRICS coalition promises to deliver cost-effective, equitable and sustainable solutions for global health.