The leaders of the world’s 20 wealthiest nations, called the G20, are preparing to meet later this week in Pittsburgh, AIDS activists from around the world are preparing to demonstrate outside of the meetings to protect the loss of funding for HIV prevention and services. A lot of media coverage during the Bush Administration focused on Bush’s promises to increase US assistance for HIV prevention programs. However, the amount of money that Bush promised was woefully insufficient, and most of those promises have evaporated now that the global economy is in the crapper. According to RH Reality Check:
But when the global recession hit, the donor nations went back on their promises. Instead of expanding successful programs that have saved millions of lives, countries are scaling back and not paying the money they had pledged. The direct result of this scaling back is clinics not taking new patients, as is happening right now in South Africa. It is the government of Uganda ending their program of providing free retroviral drugs to poor citizens. It is medicine stock- outs in Malawi, where the country cannot afford to stock the treatments its citizens need, so that even if an individual could afford medicine, it is simply not available.
And those are just stories about treatment. One reality of HIV/AIDS is that once a person starts treatment, they cannot stop treatment. Stopping treatment has devastating consequences for the course of the disease, and restarting it does not work. So when funding is short and,programs need to be cut, prevention programs are cut first, despite the fact that prevention is as important as treatment in ending the epidemic. This is why it is incredibly important that the rich nations at the G20 conference commit to increasing funding to fight global AIDS, not decrease funding.
Activists intend to draw attention to the lack of funding by holding a funeral procession through the streets of Pittsburgh today. They will be wearing black and marching behind funeral coffins draped with wreaths. I do love a good protest, and the more pageantry a protest employs the better in my opinion.
You know what really grinds my gears? That we’re 28 years into the AIDS epidemic and we still don’t have a cure. I don’t believe that this is because we lack the science or the know-how. No, I think there’s a cure for AIDS but that the government and the pharmaceutical companies are sitting on it. So long as HIV/AIDS is a disease the primarily affects the world’s poor, we won’t muster the political will power to end the epidemic. So long as pharmaceutical companies can make billions off of live-saving medicines, we won’t have a cure. So long as AIDS is still primarily associated gays, prostitutes, drug users, and people of color, we won’t see the government stepping up to say enough is enough.
Don’t believe me? Then you should read Randy Shilts’s book And the Band Played On. Shilts documents the early days of the AIDS epidemic, when HIV was still called GRID (gay-related immune difficiency). AIDS and Legionnaires disease emerged at about the same time. The CDC warned the Reagan administration that HIV had the potential to affect millions, while Legionnaires disease would be easily contained. AIDS was primarily affecting society’s “undesirables” – the gays, the IV drug users, and the sex workers – while Legionnaires disease primarily affected upper and middle class white men. Guess what – the government quickly found a cure for Legionnaires disease. We’re 28 years into the AIDS epidemic and there’s still no cure. The Reagan administration wouldn’t even publicly utter the word AIDS until 1984. So don’t tell me that the government isn’t responsible for the situation we’re in.
Anyway, that’s just a nice mid-day soapbox rant for you. Good luck to the G20 protesters in Pittsburgh.