From A World to Win News Service

U.S. Holds AIDS Victims for Ransom

Revolutionary Worker #1250, August 22, 2004, posted at

We received the following article from A World to Win News Service.

August 9, 2004. A World to Win News Service. The international conference on AIDS held in Bangkok in July 2004 was marked by angry demonstrations by local people and health workers and volunteers from other countries. They had a lot to be angry about.

About 65 million people worldwide are known to be affected by the HIV virus (which eventually causes AIDS), making it a killer of historically unprecedented proportions. Yet not one head of state from the major powers was willing to attend this biannual conference, which is the main world get-together of anti-AIDS organizations, researchers, health care activists and government representatives.

At the Bangkok conference, a message by French President Jacques Chirac took the U.S. to task for "dangling" favorable treatment in bilateral trade relations with the U.S. if third world countries abandon production and distribution of more affordable versions of antiretroviral drugs that can keep people with AIDS alive.

The drugs manufactured by giant multi-national corporations cost $10,000 for a patient per year, whereas an identical generic version of them, made in Brazil, India or Thailand, for instance, by local manufacturers, can be made available for less than $300 per year. An agreement to allow generic life-saving drugs for sales in and to poor countries was reached at Geneva in August 2002 and again at the World Trade Organization (WTO) conference in Cancún, Mexico in September 2003. Despite such agreements, the U.S. is adamant that poor countries buy drugs from the drug giants instead. Washington contends that cheaper generic drugs produced by other countries violate their "intellectual property rights." To get around the agreements made at the international conferences, the Bush administration is busy negotiating bilateral trade accords with a number of third world countries, promising favorable deals if they stick to U.S. "intellectual property" standards and refrain from buying cheaper versions of its antiretroviral drugs.

In November 2002, the U.S. announced plans to enter into a new "free trade agreement" (similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA) with the Southern African Customs Union (SACU)--Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. As part of this arrangement the U.S. is pressing hard for firmer controls on intellectual property rights. The U.S. is particularly bent on outlawing exports of generic drugs produced by other countries. The banning of such medicines could prevent South Africa, for instance, from producing generic AIDS/HIV drugs and exporting them to other African countries that urgently need them. The U.S. pharmaceutical industry even took the South African government to court in a bid to stop the production of a cheaper generic version of very expensive antiretroviral drugs.

In some imperialist countries, including France and Britain, the pharmaceutical industry rivals the arms industry as a source of profits. Despite U.S. claims, what it is defending are not high manufacturing standards for drugs or even "intellectual property rights" in general, but the interests of its giant pharmaceutical companies. Drug companies are even more central to the wealth of the French ruling class than that of the American. France, like some other European powers, is quick to denounce the U.S.'s attempts to monopolize the international drug markets because these moves hurt some of France's biggest companies as well.

Further, the American government insists that most of its funds for anti-AIDS campaigns must go through U.S. agencies, which serve the economic and political interests of the monopoly capitalist U.S. ruling class as a whole. Thus, its iron grip on the funding for fighting AIDS is really meant to blackmail poorer nations politically and economically, and further deepen dependency and the misery of most of the people.

AIDS is a disease that thrives off inequality and power relations. Its horrendous toll is due in no small part to the unequal relations between men and women that exist in every country on earth today.

For instance, some experts point out that AIDS can be best controlled when sexual relations take place between socially equal partners. But there is no society on earth today where men and women are equal. Older men preying on younger women is a major factor in the spread of AIDS in Africa and Asia. It has been said that in some countries the greatest risk factor in catching AIDS is to be a married woman, as husbands take young wives and/or have other sexual partners as well. Even in rich countries, AIDS most ravages the most oppressed.

Although American politicians like to present themselves as pro-women, the U.S.'s record on AIDS internationally says otherwise. The Bush administration gutted the funding for the African and part of the Asian components of what was supposed to be a $15 billion global fight against AIDS. Bush had personally launched this campaign as "proof" of American "generosity" and "compassion" in the face of world outrage following the U.S. rape of Iraq. The stated reason for gutting the programs was the involvement of one of the seven international agencies involved in birth control efforts in China. The resistance to popularizing and making available condoms--a simple and effective barrier to the spread of AIDS--is an example of the tremendous harm done by the medieval views on women propagated by the world's most powerful countries and religious institutions.

Similarly, another factor multiplying AIDS's deadly power is the oppressive relations between countries. Due not only to imperialist-caused poverty but especially imperialist bullying, while new drugs mean that most AIDS sufferers in rich countries can now live an almost normal life for many years, early death awaits people with AIDS in poor countries.

The relations between the imperialist countries and the third world are not just relations between rich and poor, but ones in which a handful of countries dominate most of the nations and people of the world. The imperialists may not have invented AIDS, but their global system and the backward, oppressive relations it maintains in different ways everywhere mean that what could be a serious but treatable disease is threatening to cause a holocaust of unprecedented proportions, especially in Africa and Asia. This surely amounts to yet another crime against humanity.

As the struggle that surrounds the new AIDS drugs shows, the greatest barriers to eradicating disease are not scientific, but social. Imperialism is the main factor in perpetuating human suffering.