Forum: Attacking the AIDS epidemic

From the left: Increase prevention and treatment
by Bernard Pollack

In light of the recent commemoration of World AIDS Day, the Bush administration needs to drastically change the U.S. policy toward AIDS, both domestically and internationally.

Worldwide, 14,000 people are infected with HIV each day, and the number of people with HIV or AIDS will more than double by 2010. AIDS has already taken 25 million lives and could infect 100 million people over the next eight years. Yet, 95 percent of the people suffering from this disease do not have access to the life-saving medicine that would prolong their own lives and greatly reduce the risk of their children being born with AIDS. At a time when offering treatment and prevention could curtail the spread of AIDS, the United States has refused to commit the necessary funding to do so.

Domestically, the Bush administration has only served to kick more people off AIDS drug assistance rolls, block needle exchange, restrict AIDS education for youth to abstinence-only and consistently under-funded AIDS initiatives, such as the Ryan White Foundation and the Minority AIDS initiative. The Administration does this despite a growing number of Americans suffering from the epidemic.

In the United States, there will continue to be more than 40,000 newly infected HIV patients each year, predominantly affecting those with low incomes and African-Americans, because basic public health programs such as safe-sex education and harm- reduction programs, including needle exchange programs, are frozen, cut or blocked. Conservatives often argue that educational abstinence programs will cure the AIDS crisis. This na?ve ethno-centric approach will do nothing more then proliferate the spread of the disease. It has never worked; in fact the success in fighting AIDS in countries such as Brazil and South Africa is precisely because they use direct prevention and treatment instead.

The United States is in a position to drastically curb the AIDS crisis. Bush will need to take a strong stand supporting a limited exception to international patent rules so that affordable generic medications can be exported to poor countries when they lack the production capacity to locally manufacture the drugs.

Pharmaceutical companies and governments must do more to reduce the price of AIDS drugs and get these drugs to the individuals who need them. Conservatives make excuses for these companies, but the plain and sad fact is that these companies legally and intentionally withhold lifesaving medicine from people because it is not profitable to reduce costs. In addition, the U.S. must offer the necessary funding to cover the approximately 2 million women with HIV who give birth every year (and the 600,000 babies born infected). By providing mothers with the necessary medication, we can greatly reduce this risk. Consequently, for the children orphaned or left vulnerable by the AIDS pandemic, we must support programs that offer community-based care and support.

To ensure that we meet these goals, the United States must commit a sustained and significant annual contribution for HIV prevention programs in low and middle-income countries, including a 2004 federal budget request for a provision of $2.5 billion for implementation of global AIDS programs, as well as additional funding to fight tuberculosis and malaria. In addition, as a nation we must commit to a comprehensive debt cancellation for impoverished countries facing an HIV/AIDS crisis, with support for locally determined processes to ensure that resulting savings are re-channeled to social needs.

“Why should the United States be the ATM of the world?” Conservatives often bark back with this tired isolationist rhetoric. The answer is simply that millions of people are dying from AIDS and that, fundamentally, we have the medicine, the funding and the resources to help them. How will history judge our inaction?

-The writer is a graduate student in the School of Political Management.

From the right: Don’t blame pharmaceuticals
by Jenni Bradley

With another World AIDS Day behind us, it is surprising that liberals in the United States and throughout the world have not pushed to change the name to “Blame America and the Big Bad Pharmaceutical Companies Day.” Why? Because it has become universal lore that the drug companies are purposely withholding medicine from HIV/AIDS victims and the United States is standing solidly behind their friends in the pharmaceutical industry. Even Sean “P. Diddy” Combs agrees and was quoted in Newsweek as saying, “If this was white people in London, it would be on CNN nonstop, breaking news, all day, every day. We’d be sending in tanks, planes, trains. We’d be giving away the medicine for free.”

The devastation that HIV/AIDS is wrecking on the world cannot be ignored, nor should it be. More than 20 million lives have already been lost to this pandemic and more than 40 million more people worldwide are currently living with the virus. Africa alone has more than 33 million of its citizens infected.

These numbers are staggering and multiplying rapidly. It is estimated that 60 million individuals will be infected within the next couple of years. However, instead of concentrating just some resources on real prevention and shifting focus to the causes of the problem, critics continually cite treatment as the most effective way to combat the future spread of the disease. Prevention to most AIDS activists is shuffling condoms and safe-sex programs across the world. It’s not working.

Critics of the pharmaceutical industry repeatedly blame patent laws for the unavailability of HIV/AIDS drugs, especially in Africa. The standard rallying cry against drug companies has become “Patents before People,” when the reality of the situation is that drug patents have virtually nothing to do with it.

In July 2000, South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang declined the offer of the Pharmaceutical Company Boerhinger-Ingelheim to provide for free the drug Nevirapine, which greatly reduces the transmission of the HIV/AIDS virus from mother to child during labor. Most countries also have the capability to produce generic versions of the drugs, which are considered by most to be the best possible treatment for the virus. Africa has yet to develop and manufacture these drugs, although they have the ability to do so. For many activists, the perceived patent problem is just a tool to promote a larger agenda – the fight to destroy pharmaceutical companies.

Let’s not forget the role of the United States in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The United States has spent more than $500 million this year alone in fighting HIV/AIDS internationally. In the past 30 years, this country has spent more than $3 billion to promote safe sex in our classrooms and communities. And what has it gotten us? A study by the Centers for Disease Control states that there is no clinical proof that condoms effectively prevent STDs such as gonorrhea and syphilis and that protection against HIV/AIDS is only at 85 percent. One in three Americans over the age of 10 now has a sexually transmitted disease. And what do we get for it? Critics and liberals berating America for not doing enough even though their solutions are not effective – as seen by the rapid increase of HIV/AIDS throughout the world.

What has the teaching of abstinence gotten us? A drop in teen sex rates in America – down from 54 percent in 1991 to 46 percent in 2001, while teen pregnancy has also been drastically reduced. This is no doubt a credit to the popular wave of abstinence programs that is currently being promulgated. Bush has wisely pushed an agenda that will increase spending to more than $135 million to promote abstinence.

Removing all sex education programs and condom distribution is obviously not the solution. However, why should activists protest to the teaching of abstinence? Is one life not worth the risk of teaching kids a little morality, even if it offends some that hear the message?

The fight against HIV/AIDS is going to be a long and gruesome one. It’s time for the world to keep its eye on the ball – treating those with the illness and finding a cure, not blaming faceless enemies because it seems like the easy thing to do.

-The writer is a graduate student in the School of Political Management.

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