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Opinions of Tuesday, 30 November 1999

Columnist: Abudu, Dr. Paul B.

AIDS, Politics and Greed

The issue of aids has become a leading topic in the newspapers recently. This week an African Aids Summit is being held in Abuja, Nigeria. Last week a Court in South Africa cleared the way for more cheaper and affordable drugs should be sold or imported to the country against the greedy desires of the multinational corporations that manufacture these drugs. Sensing their defeat they gave up their fight.

As one peruses the newspapers, a living being from space, if there are any, visiting the earth will only conclude and tell his folks back in space that aids is only in Africa. The newspapers continue to, intentionally, avoid mentioning the aids epidemic in the European countries, Asia, Latin America, North America and the Far East. It is only Africa that is mentioned and it is only Africa that needs help. See statistics below.

From the very beginning when this dreadful disease was discovered, it was stated that aids originated from Africa and more specifically from the Congo. It was declared without any scientific research and support that the people of the Congo eat monkeys that carried the aids virus.

Politics became an issue and Africa became the center of it all. African leaders lacking the knowledge and resources to fight back did nothing. African scientists did nothing. For that matter, Africa became the centerfold of aids and blamed for the spread of aids.

As time goes on it was reasoned that aids affects only homosexuals. Those who were seriously affected were homosexuals and not those so called - straight- that is non-homosexuals. Well known individuals of high visibility died of aids. One such notable person was Rock Hudson.

The search for the cause or causes of aids became very political because scientists, politicians could not face the fact that the origin may be from Europe and or a "white origination" and continued to blame Africa as a real source of the aids epidemic. The debate over how aids is acquired, the origin of aids became more important than any serious research as to the causes of aids and its prevention.

If early researchers blame Africa as the continent that brought aids into existence because they eat monkeys that carry the virus; then there is no need to do any further research. The simple solution would have been - to stop eating monkeys, kill all monkeys, burn them and that should have been the end of aids.

This did not solve the problem. Africa is not well known for homosexuality. Therefore, how did it become a disease paramount amount those with that sexual orientation? No one could give an answer. People continue to die in millions. The only figure of death that can be stated is that from Africa.

Americans, Europeans and others in the so-called industrialized countries continue to see Africa as the motherland of aids. Talk, think of aids, think of Africa.

The question now arises how do we solve this epidemic without attributing the cause to Africa. Aids is here and the only solution is to find the cause and work on its prevention.

Now comes the greed. The multinational corporations have done their research to manufacture aids medications and not any preventive medication. They are making billions of dollars in the medications and so what would be the rationale to have a preventive dose.

The issue has become money. These multinational corporations have used Africa as their bargaining ground. They have lobbied their governments to provide funds for the African countries to fight aids. When these funds are raised, how are they used. They are used to purchase the expensive aids medication to be sent to Africa for treatments. Africans cannot afford it. For this reason, the African governments are being forced to use their limited financial resources to buy medications for their people.

The US Government, through its Import-Export Bank has provided One Billion Dollars to African countries to be used to buy aids medication. It is important to note that this is not a grant, it is a loan facility. The African governments from one government to another rejected this offer outright. They contend that they need funds for social amenities for their people rather than creating more debt for their people. It can be stated here rather sadly that if one is affected with aids, it is tantamount to suicide. Therefore, why borrow money to purchase medication which will not safe the life of the person. Worse still it will not even treat the ailment (disease). It only gives you strength to live much longer. The affected person will die eventually. The African governments welcome research and manufacturing of medications that will prevent aids. Yet, this goes into deaf ears.

The greed of the multinationals have become so severe that they continue to admonish African leaders for doing nothing about aids in their respective countries.

It is an open secret that the income of an African that is affected by aids, is not enough to purchase any aids medication for treatment. It is estimated that $10,000 per month is needed on a monthly basis to buy aids medication. As this is unaffordable by the individual, their governments are being pressured to buy the medications and distribute to them at such exorbitant prices.

Should the treatment of aids and aids prevention be a humanitarian issue or a matter of business (capitalism at its best). It has become very clear that aids is not limited to Africa only and that it is a universal problem. It must take the international community to solve the problem.

Unless and until the issue of aids is treated as a dangerous and dreadful human ailment and has no boundaries it will be difficult to make a serious issue of it. Unless and until it is viewed as a humanitarian issue and should be treated as such rather than being left to the multinational corporations to deal with, we shall have a very serious epidemic in the years to come.

I wish to raise a controversial issue. That is aids should be treated as a humanitarian matter and medication for its treatment should be FREE. If government or foreign donors can donate about $10 billion dollars a year for aids medication; why can't this money be used to produce or manufacture medications for free distribution. Why should this money be used to purchase high priced medication from the European and American pharmaceutical companies. Is it too much to ask that there should be an international aids drugs manufacturing company that will manufacture and freely distribute aids medication to all those affected around the world.

The distribution of condoms is a secondary matter. This does not prevent aids as aids can be acquired through other means and not only through sexual intercourse.

Why is it that African governments cannot come together, come up with a budget and establish an aids manufacturing company. Production from this factory should be distributed freely throughout Africa to its affected people.

The AIDS SUMMIT in Abuja, Nigeria this week (April 24-27, 2001) should give serious consideration to this recommendation. The time for rhetoric is over. The dangers of aids is well known and there is no need for any more speeches. This is the time for action. The Summit should be action oriented to be successful.

The General Secretary of the OAU has called for massive assistance to help Africa to successfully tackle HIV/AIDS. The call should be directed principally to the leaders of Africa attending the Summit to agree to financial contributions to establish a drug manufacturing facility and to create a research center to study the causes of aids and seek drugs manufacturing as doses to prevent aids. Anything short of this is rhetoric. There is no need for showmanship and speeches - just to indicate concern for the problem. Practical actions is needed. Positive Action is needed to prevent this ailment from the continent. It has been stated that the enormity of the problem has forced African leaders to organize the Summit to forge a common front against the disease. Africans are watching to see what practical solutions will come out of this Summit if not another Resolution.

It is time for Africans and African governments to know that the destiny of Africa is in its own hands. We cannot go - a begging for foreign assistance. African governments continue to think that the West owes them something. They owe Africa nothing. At least that is their contention and it is time Africa stands on its own.

Africa has been blessed with the abundance of natural resources. This is a common knowledge and if all are put together effectively without prejudice, Africa will become a great continent to contend with.

For example, the gold in Ghana,Zaire,Guinea, Sierra Leone, Angola (to name a few) and South Africa; Oil in Nigeria, Gabon, Libya, etc and other strategic minerals around Africa can be put into an effective bargain with the industrialized world. Together Africa will be great.

Having said the above, Africa still has its own numerous problems and still looking for assistance from overseas.

To get back to the aids issue, it is time that African governments begin to initiate collective solutions to the problem of aids. Limited resources should be put together to create a factory to produce aids medication and to research medication to be used for its prevention. This should be a priority. The life of Africans are being wasted and if no serious and drastic actions are taken, there will be no next generation. Funds being used for education shall come to nothing because the students will die before they reach a productive age. Therefore, why not put up the thinking caps and make some serious cuts in the budget and contribute towards the collective establishment of the factory and a research center to fight aids. THEY WILL NOT DO IT FOR AFRICA. You know who I mean by "they". Africans have to do it themselves.

What will be the need for an African Unity in which there will be no body in the unity house. Let Africans come together and consider this recommendation - establish a factory to manufacture aids medication and a center to research preventive medication. Brazil is manufacturing its own medication and distribution to its citizens, why not Africa?

Summary of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, December 2000.
People infected with HIV in 2000
Total 5.3 Million
Adults 4.7 Million Women
2.2 Million Children <15 years
600,000 No. of people living with HIV/AIDS
Total 36.1 Million
Adults 34.7 Million
Women 16.4 Million
Children <15 years 1.4 Million
AIDS deaths in 2000 Total 3 Million
Adults 2.5 Million
Women 1.3 Million
Children <15 years 500,000
Total no. of AIDS deaths since the beginning of the epidemic
Total 21.8 Million
Adults 17.5 Million
Women 9 Million Children <15 years 4.3 Million


Total no. of AIDS orphans since the beginning of the epidemic Total 13.2 Million

Regional HIV/AIDS statistics, December 2000.

Region Epidemic started Adults and children living infected with HIV/AIDS Adults and children newly infected with HIV Adult prevalence rate* Percent of HIV- positive adults who are women Main mode(s) of transmission# for adults living with HIV/AIDS

Sub Saharan Africa Late '70's - Early 80's 25.3 Million 3.8 Million 8.8% 55% Heterosexual sex
North Africa and the middle east Late '80's 400,000 80,000 0.2% 40% IDU, Heterosexual
South and South East Asia Late '80's 5.8 Million 780,000 0.56% 35% IDU, Heterosexual
East Asia and Pacific Late '80's 640,000 130,000 0.07% 0.13% IDU, Hetero, MSM
Latin America Late '70's early 80's 1.4 Million 150,000 0.7% 25% MSM, IDU, Hetero
Caribbean Late '70's - Early 80's 390,000 60,000 2.3% 35% Hetero, MSM
Eastern Europe & Central Asia Early '90's 700,000 250,000 0.35% 25% IDU
Western Europe Late '70's - Early '80's 540,000 30,000 0.24% 25% MSM, IDU

North America Late '70's 920,000 45,000 0.6% 20% MSM, IDU, Hetero Australia and New Zealand Late '70's - Early '80's 15,000 500 0.13% 10% MSM Total 36.1 Million 5.3 Million 1.1% 47%

* The proportion of adults (15 to 49 years of age) living with HIV/AIDS in 2000, using 2000 population numbers.

# MSM (sexual transmission among men who have sex with men), IDU (transmission through injecting drug use), Hetero (Heterosexual transmission).

$ Defined as children who lost their mother or both parents to AIDS when they where under the age of 15 .

Source: UNAIDS Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, "AIDS Epidemic Update December 2000" and "Report on the global HIV/AIDS epidemic June 2000".