December 4, 2006

What Did You Do On World AIDS Day?

[Friday was International AIDS Day and I requested this report from long-time ACT UP/NY member John Riley to get a snapshot of the AIDS movement today. For a lot of the Left, the movement has pretty much fallen off the radar. If you've got a moment, after reading this please go to comments and answer the three bluntish questions at the end of the article.]

In the last year 3 million more lives were consumed by AIDS while Big Pharma and political elites in the developed world continue to clutch the pennies that could have saved them. World leaders have pledged universal access to AIDS treatment by 2010, but progress is slow. The global movement of people with AIDS continues using a range of tactics to fight for treatment for all--with some real success stories.

Just 2 days before World AIDS Day the Thai Network for People with AIDS (TNP+) announced a victory. "The Thai Ministry of Public Health has bowed to pressure from HIV/AIDS lobbyists and NGOs and has agreed to issue a 5 year compulsory licence (CL) for the anti-retro viral drug, Efavirenz commonly used in first line treatment for HIV. US Pharmaceutical company, Merck, currently holds a patent on Efavirenz in Thailand."

Compulsory licenses effectively break patents by licensing production of brand-name drugs to a generic company when brand-name companies won't lower prices, and they can be implemented during public health emergencies. Legal under World Trade Agreements, compulsory licenses mandate a small royalty--in this case 0.5% of Merck's price!

Within two days, Merck lept to the defense of its patent by offering to discuss discount prices or voluntary licenses with the Government Pharmaceuticals Organization...

Activists demanded that the Thai government not back down and that it fight the drug companies' newest tactic: getting free trade agreements to include provisions which make the data proving a drug's efficacy into "intellectual property." Thus, a generic drug company would have to conduct a new set of (very expensive and time-consuming) trials before going into production.

On a different front, US activists from ACT UP/NY, Philly, the Student Global AIDS Campaign and Health Gap demonstrated at the White House to demand that the Bush administration support a new initiative to fund Health Care Workers for people with AIDS in poor countries with new money (i.e. not reallocated money from other AIDS programs). The "brain drain" of health care workers to better paying jobs in Europe and the US has left many poor countries with health care systems desperately understaffed. The proposal would help by providing funding for more jobs and better pay.

Bottom line, a cure and vaccine are still needed. Even in the US 18,000 people died of AIDS last year. 8,000! Many had drug-resistant virus or were unable to handle the side-effects of the drugs. An additional 40,000 people were infected, the majority people of color and injection drug users.

The epidemic can end, but the political will has to be mustered to do it. The Bush administration has used AIDS to funnel money to right-wing "Christian" organizations. These groups go on to spread lies, promote homophobia and sex panic, and obscure truly effective AIDS prevention techniques. We must struggle to overcome this misuse of public money by building a movement to counter it.

[Please click on comments and take a minute to answer these questions and comment further if you want to:
1. Did you know December 1 was World AIDS Day?
2. Were you aware of anything for you to do on the 1st?
3. In the last year, has your activism intersected at all with the AIDS movement?
Any further remarks would be most welcome, of course.

This is not about being judgemental--my own answers are yes, no, not that I can think of

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