Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic

Randy Shilts' acclaimed book - And the band played on - (1987) chronicles the discovery and spread of HIV and AIDS, emphasising government indifference and political infighting (specifically in the United States) to what was initially perceived as a "gay" disease.

I was reminded of this book when I read the Treatment Action Campaign's (TAC) open letter to the citizens of Europe, Don't Let Your Governments Trade Away Our Lives, and remarks made by Stephen Lewis (a Co-Director ofAIDS-FreeWorld) at Ryerson University, Toronto that "so-called Corporate Social Responsibility often can be a sham."

The issue is summed up in the opening paragraph of the TAC's letter: "We are writing to you as people living with HIV/AIDS, who rely on access to affordable medicines to stay alive. We are writing you because your governments are pushing to limit our access to medicines through a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) the EU is negotiating with India, which is the world's largest producer of affordable generic medicines. This week, as the EU and India meet for a summit in Delhi, our lives hang in the balance as the two sides make trade-offs tocome to an agreement. Don't let your governments trade away our lives."

Lewis stated: "At present, Indian generics supply fully 80% of all the AIDS drugs in the developing world, keeping millions of people alive. Shortly after the generics became available, prices actually dropped by 99%! In 2008, of 100 countries requiring anti-retroviral drugs, 96 purchased the drugs from India. If the drugs or the prices are put at risk, millions of lives hang in the balance. You would think that the priorities ofglobal public health might spawn an ounce of concern for the well-being of millions, but not when well-being conflicts with balance-sheets."

This Free Trade Agreement comes at precisely the moment when we know how to defeat the pandemic of AIDS and the defeat is entirely dependent on low-cost drugs. More, the Free Trade Agreement comes at precisely the moment when donor funds are drying up, so much so that the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria had to cancel its most recent round of grants. We can certainly say: ". . . and the band played on." The question is "When will the tide turn?"

The XIV InternationalAids Conference will be held in Washington (DC) in July 2012. This year's theme is: "Turning the Tide Together." As planning begins, organisers say it will be "a watershed moment to eliminate stigma, criminalisation and discrimination,which fuel the HIV pandemic." Let's hope that the Aids 2012 programme will take this opportunity to assess where we are and collectively chart a course forward!

QASA's RollingPositive HIV/AIDS/TB programme aims to change the way persons with a disability behave as they seek to live a fulfilled and satisfying life. However, as illustrated above, governments and private enterprises, that put profit before people, affect those who depend on anti-retroviral treatment to slow down the progression of the HI-Virus as it attacks their immune system.