About AIDS

U.N. Meeting Demonstrations Reminiscent of the 1980s

On June 25 the United Nations opened an unprecedented single-issue session to explore a health problem - AIDS. Along with the attendees, there were demonstrators outside, passionately advocating various issues. In some respects, it was like the (not-so-good) old days when AIDS activism moved virtual mountains. Profiteering drug companies were the primary targets, with a clear bead drawn on Africa's lack of access to expensive medications. It was good to see some energy being exerted against the walls of "the box" in which we have become so complacent, despite this writer's long-held opinion (with which UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot agrees) that costly drugs are not the primary thing that Africa needs to fight HIV. Even so, the passion and activism are to be admired.

Indeed, there seems to be a mild resurgence in AIDS activism. After a lengthy protest last spring, Yale University students had some success in getting Bristol-Myers Squibb to forego its South African patent rights on an AIDS drug that had been developed with federal money at Yale. Then in April, students at the University of Minnesota challenged the university's huge royalties from its AIDS drug Ziagen, again developed with federal money. The university's $300 million windfall seemed greedy, given the scope of the world epidemic and the wide gaps in treatment between developed and developing countries. And in Washington in early June, thousands of demonstrators crowded around the Capitol, where U.N. Secretary General Kofi Anan spoke to members of Congress about the global disaster.

Protesters in the early epidemic brought about fundamental and long-reaching change, not only for the HIV arena, but for all healthcare consumers. That kind of passion is needed again, because without it, efforts against HIV/AIDS languish - and although people don't die as fast as before, the epidemic continues to swell.

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