The situation in South African jails has reached catastrophic proportions, with 45,000 prisoners dying of AIDS-related diseases every year. Meanwhile, the super-rich pharmaceutical companies turn a blind eye and refuse to lower profit margins from expensive drugs which control the disease. More than this, they veto the launching on the market of generics which perform the same function at an affordable rate. Police Inspector Johannes Fagan stated in the South African Parliament that the situation was extremely serious, with 45,000 deaths from AIDS or AIDS-related diseases expected every year until 2010. In the last 5 years, cases of AIDS in prisons have risen 584%, from 770 deaths in 1996 to 45,000 last year. Elsewhere in Africa, educational programmes are swinging into action, but too late to save the lives of the millions of people infected by HIV (Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus) or AIDS (Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome), the progression of HIV to a situation where first the body is attacked by opportunist infections and then in the terminal phase, the immunity system starts to attack itself. The male-dominated African culture leaves little room for safe sex with condoms and in rural areas, there is little or no understanding of this type of disease, as in other parts of the world. The tragedy is that there are drugs available for treatment and in the richer countries, it is now possible to stabilise the health of a person who tests sero-positive for many years, turning the situation into a chronic, and not a critical, one. The patient’s viral load is monitored and the virus is attacked from various angles, disenabling it from coupling with a host cell. It therefore travels around the body, unable to cause harm. These drugs cost money and the economic capacity of most African countries, especially the sub-Saharan ones where the AIDS epidemic is rife, makes it impossible to adopt an adequate public health program to combat this disease. The pharmaceutical companies could do more to help, if they wanted. For instance, they could stop the policy of refusing to lower profits from certain drugs for certain areas of the world. They could also permit generic drugs to be sold in the areas where AIDS is at alarmingly high levels (HIV infection is at 30% in certain African countries). This however is unlikely to happen. The world’s main pharmaceutical companies, concentrated in a handful of the world’s richest capitals, refuse to allow these generic drugs to be sold, condemning millions of people to an unnecessary death. When is the developed world going to learn that it has responsibilities to help developing countries? When is it going to learn that African mothers cry too?
TIMOTHY BANCROFT-HINCHEY PRAVDA.RU LISBON