HIV/AIDS – the fight for life

Across sub-Saharan Africa, 29.4 million people are infected with HIV. In 2002, 2.4 million people died. Four million people are in need of urgent drugs yet fewer than 50,000 are getting them. Tuberculosis infects 70% of those with HIV/AIDS. In South Africa, 4.7 million people are infected, with an estimate that 200,000 people will die this year. Of Malawi’s 11 million people approximately one million are infected; AIDS has reduced life expectancy from 53 to 39 years and made 475,000 children orphans.

AIDS kills mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles and all those who raise the family, who should be working the land, who teach the next generation, who provide health care. AIDS is being passed from mother to child. Orphanages struggle to cope. The HIV/AIDS epidemic in India is thought to be following the African path, only 15 years behind.

In 1985, GlaxoWellcome (now GlaxoSmithKline) developed the first anti-retroviral drug – AZT, capable of suppressing the virus; in 1987 Bristol Myers Squibb made the second – ddI. There have been about ten further drugs developed. Yet in the wards of sub-Saharan African hospitals 70% of people have HIV/AIDS and there are no drugs to treat them with. In Malawi, drugs for HIV/AIDS are available for £18 a month imported from the Indian generics firm Cipla. A year’s supply costs twice the per capita income.

In September 2000, multi-millionaire Yusuf Hamied, head of Bombay-based Cipla, manufacturer of cheaper generic copies of medicines, offered to sell AIDS drugs at less than a tenth of their market price. This forced the big companies to reduce prices but Cipla remained cheaper. Despite this just 50,000 of the almost 30 million people infected with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa are being treated. Cost would always be an issue, but the bullying tactics of the pharmaceutical industry are the main barrier to treatment.

US and European pharmaceutical companies brought in a World Trade Organisation agreement called Trips, (trade related intellectual property rights), signing up every nation to protect patents on new drugs for 20 years. In 2001, the industry was forced to drop its court case against the South African government for importing cheap drugs. In the same year, campaigners won an exemption clause to Trips: the Doha Declaration, allowing developing countries to ignore patents and buy generic drugs in health crises. The wrangling over precisely which countries and which diseases this applies to has gone on for 14 months, predominantly because of US stonewalling. The pharmaceutical lobby recently provided $39 million to the Republicans. It demands payback. It wants the US to limit the scope of the Doha Declaration.

In June 2001, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria was set up by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to raise $10 billion a year from rich countries to subsidise treatment for the poor. So far only $3.2 billion has been pledged. Richard Feacham, head of the Global Fund says that when the HIV/AIDS pandemic peaks in 2050/2060 it will do more to destabilise the world than any terrorist threats. While the US spends $200 billion or more on war against Iraq, it has so far donated a paltry $500 million to the Global Fund. Britain has pledged $138 million to the fund, spread over five years.

In South Africa, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) is at the forefront of campaigning around HIV/AIDS. Along with trade unions and religious groups, it organised a march to condemn President Thabo Mbeki’s state of the nation address in February that virtually ignored the HIV/AIDS issue. Last year a South African court ruled that the government should universally implement its anti-retroviral treatment programme in all state hospitals. However this has not happened and TAC has started a campaign of non-violent civil disobedience to force the government to act on the court ruling.

AIDS is destroying African economies and eliminating its populations. While Jean-Pierre Garnier, chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline, earned over £3.5 million in 2001, while the WTO is deadlocked over exemptions to the Trips agreement, hundreds of men, women and children are dying of AIDS every day. There can be no nice solutions in corporate boardrooms and politicians’ offices in the imperialist countries. The struggle to combat the death and destruction being wreaked on the oppressed world by HIV/AIDS is a political struggle that will have to take on the imperialist drive for profit at any human cost.

Hannah Caller

FRFI 172 April / May 2003


Our site uses cookies to improve your browsing experience. By using the site you consent to the use of cookies.
More information Ok