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The Aids Pandemic:
US Promotes Solution of Greed and Abstinence

by Mei Lingg

The 15th World AIDS conference in Bangkok ended on July 16, with world leaders promising more funds and greater efforts to fight the HIV pandemic, which continues to spread in all but a few countries. The number of people being treated for HIV in the developing world has doubled since the last AIDS conference in Barcelona two years ago, but life-saving drugs still only reach about 7% of the 6-million people in poor countries.

The US was the main target for criticism at the conference, from both world leaders and activists.

Two years ago, Bush created a $15-billion US-controlled emergency fund to fight AIDS. Thirty percent of this money is dedicated to faith-based organizations, as Bush naively pushes abstinence as a key method to ending the spread of the disease. According to the president, “We need to tell our children that abstinence is the only certain way to avoid AIDS.” It sounds like Bush has AIDS confused with teen pregnancy.

Bush’s plan also earmarked $1 billion to the UN-initiated Global Fund. While the US plan targets 15 countries and insists that projects purchase patented AIDS drugs, the Global Fund

has projects in 128 countries and does not prevent the purchase of cheap generic drugs. The UN Global Fund provides generic drugs for $150 a year, compared to an estimated $700 per year for brand name drugs. It was also alleged at the conference that the US is pressuring countries such as Thailand to cede their right to make generic AIDS drugs in exchange for free-trade deals.

At the conference, Randall Tobias, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator appointed by Bush, defended the US’s position of purchasing AIDS drugs that have been approved by the US Food and Drug. “We need to know that the drugs act in the same way” as brand-name drugs, he said. “It would be irresponsible to do anything else.”

A recent large-scale study conducted by Doctors Without Borders has documented the effectiveness of using fixed-dose, generic anti-retroviral drugs to fight AIDS. According to Dr. Alexandra Calmy, an AIDS adviser to the group, stated that the probability of survival after one year for fixed-dose recipients was calculated as 82.4 percent. In a separate part of the study conducted in Malawi, Dr. Arno Jeannin’s Doctors Without Borders team randomly tested the amount of HIV in the blood of 477 patients who had received generic fixed-dose combinations there for six months or longer. Of these, HIV could not be detected in 85 percent, showing the overall effectiveness of the fixed-dose combinations.

There is doubt, however, that findings such as these will have an effect on the actions of the US government in fighting the AIDS pandemic, considering the interests of those who control the $15 billion fund. Tobias, who has no experience in public health, is the former chairman and CEO of Eli Lilly and Company, one of the nation’s largest pharmaceutical corporations. CEO and board of director members of this company also include Enron’s Ken Lay, former president George Herbert Walker Bush, and Homeland Security Advisory Council member Sidney Taurel. From 1997 to 2001, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld was chairman of the board of Gilead Sciences Inc., a company who was a target for protesters at this year’s AIDS conference for testing their possible HIV vaccine on Cambodian sex workers, without providing health care for those who become infected. With these people controlling the US government’s effort to fight against AIDS, how can we expect that the interests for the 38 million people infected with HIV/AIDS globally will be taken into consideration?

From the August 2004 issue.