(photo: Fabrice COFFRINI \/ AFP)Millions of people died of AIDS because they did not have access to existing therapies: it is imperative to "take the lessons from this failure" in the fight against COVID-19 and ensure equitable access to future treatments, points out the head of Unaids. "It is necessary to prioritize life over profits", insists Winnie Byanyima in an AFP interview. The executive director of the UN agency, who took office less than a year ago, recalls with anguish the struggle she waged 20 years ago in her native Uganda to raise funds and that one of her friends is affected by AIDS , failed to treat. "At the time, antiretrovirals cost about US $ 800 per month. Her monthly salary was less than US $ 100," says Byanyima, noting that her friend was sometimes able to raise this money for one month of treatment, but not for the next. . "She died six months before the annual treatment price went from $ 10,000 to $ 100." On this day when Unaids publishes its annual report, Byanyima highlights the "enormous progress" made in the last 40 years in the fight against the virus, whose fatalities have been reduced, from 1.7 million in 2004 to 690,000 last year.However, Byanyima regrets that the development of therapies and research in progress to obtain a vaccine has been left to the private sector since the beginning.- 'People's vaccine' - It is necessary to "take the lessons from the sad experience of AIDS. The drugs were found, but it took ten years for patients in Africa to benefit from them", he explains. "Millions of lives were lost." To prevent this from happening again in the fight against the new coronavirus, which has already caused more than 530,000 deaths worldwide, Unaids has advocated since the beginning a "people's vaccine" and a fair and equitable access to the treatments found. The World Health Organization (WHO) launched an initiative in April to accelerate the research and production of tests, vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, and ensure equitable access to them. For the head of Unaids, each country must have access to affordable treatments and distribute them free of charge to the most vulnerable people.- 'Me first' -"It is not possible for the rich to come, book treatments and be vaccinated, while others die while they wait," says Byanyima. She is especially alarmed by the policy of certain European countries and the United States regarding remdesivir, the first drug that has shown relative effectiveness in the treatment of COVID-19. The US government announced last week that it had purchased 92% of all remittance production from Gilead Lab, while the United Kingdom and Germany announced that they had sufficient reserves. "It's not fair. The virus affects everyone. We need global responses, not an 'me first' policy," he complains. The research on vaccines against COVID-19, in which governments are investing billions of dollars, illustrates the "failure" of the old model that gave way to private laboratories, Byanyima. "If we could unite the world after a new model for the development and distribution of health technologies, it would have a positive impact on the fight against AIDS and other diseases", especially those that affect poor and abandoned countries by pharmaceutical companies. Meanwhile, the focus of the coronavirus pandemic is threatening to have repercussions in the fight against AIDS. "We're already off target," warns Byanyima. She explains that the goal of reducing the number of AIDS deaths to less than 500,000 this year will not be achieved and that 12.5 million of the 38 million infected remain untreated.