May 10, 2006

How Duduzile Saved Papa Zuma

Posted in AIDS, South Africa at 8:27 pm by greatparanoiac

zuma.jpgI wanted to follow-up on yesterday’s post on the acquittal of Jacob Zuma. First–check out the NYT’s scathing editorial on why letting him back into political life would be a disservice to the country.

Women’s groups have condemned the verdict and AIDS activists have also spoken against Zuma for hurting the cause. Today’s Independent Online  picked up a story from AFP reporting that a senior UN envoy criticized the former South African deputy president for his “unacceptable male behavior” and “appalling uninformed testimony” during his trial.

“Zuma has done irreparable damage to efforts to curb the spread of the deadly disease with actions that came to light in his recent rape trial,” said Stephen Lewis, UN chief Kofi Annan’s special envoy for Aids in Africa. “I feel embarrassed for the African leadership and if you will forgive me that has been the situation in South Africa where the voice of political leadership has been both confused and confusing.”

The confusion Lewis is referring to is what AIDS activists have long complained about—lack of commitment from their government officials. President Thabo Mbeki once remarked that AIDS is a disease caused by poverty and Health Minister Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has advocated a diet of garlic, beetroot and olive oil as an antidote in lieu of anti retrolviral drugs.

I did a Google news & blog search looking for different media reports on Zuma—and haven’t been able to find a match to a second story on the Independent Online. Allegedly, the testimony of Zuma’s 23-year-old daughter, Duduzile, helped her father get acquitted. The news story reports that the judge unwaveringly believed Duduzile’s account and afterward praised the young woman for her testimony.  Read the rest of this entry »

May 9, 2006

Protecting African Sisters Protects Africa’s Future

Posted in AIDS, South Africa, Womens Rights at 12:34 am by greatparanoiac

I have written a couple of posts before on HIV/AIDS in South Africa. The verdict for SA’s former deputy president Jacob Zuma was reported yesterday. AllAfrica.com picked up the story from IRIN. No surprise really that he was acquitted on rape charges. While the judge believed the sex was consensual, he did chastise Zuma for not using protection even though he knew the woman was HIV-positive. In Blogher’s post she excerpted this bit from the NYT. It’s upsetting that this attitude still exists:

“AIDS hotlines were briefly besieged after his testimony with queries from men asking whether soap and water could prevent AIDS infections. Judge Van der Merwe said today that Mr. Zuma’s remark was beneath comment.”

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What this trial has done is draw attention to sexual violence in South Africa, which IRIN reports as having one of the highest incidences of reported rape in the world. Women’s rights groups like People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA)  protested outside the courthouse during Zuma’s trial. POWA was part of the “One in Nine”campaign. This is in reference to the number of women who have reported being raped. Between April 2004 and March 2005, 55,114 cases were reported to the police. Read the rest of this entry »

April 28, 2006

Access to AIDS Treatment: An Equity Issue

Posted in Africa, AIDS at 3:57 pm by greatparanoiac

big pharma.jpgI promise to keep this short–over the weekend I wrote a post on the impact the Big Pharma is having on the fight against AIDS in Africa. I found this article on the Washington Post. The National Institute of Health refused to get involved with AIDS activists who want to challenge drug companies to lower the price on anti retrovirals.  It’s a couple of years old, but it’s an interesting read.

The activists are concerned with the increase in price of the AIDS drug Norvirin the U.S. and not in regard to its availability overseas. Back then–in 2004–the Bush administration had not taken steps to override the patents of ARVs so a generic brand can be created.

I searched on the NIH’s website and found a press release stating last month that the Food & Drug Administration has tentatively approved a package of generic AIDS drugs. Under the program, two million HIV-infected people will receive treatment and another ten million people affected by HIV will get care. The press release doesn’t go into more details about how ‘treatment’ and ‘care’ will be differentiated. With the number of people with HIV/AIDS in Africa estimated at 60% of the population—this doesn’t seem to make much of a dent…but this is a step in the right direction…

Now we have to see how global initiatives on access to AIDS treatment can take shape.

April 24, 2006

The Value of an African Life According to Merck

Posted in Africa, AIDS at 6:29 pm by greatparanoiac

africa aids.jpgI wanted to follow up on yesterday’s post on AIDS in Africa. This weekend was the 2nd Annual U.N. Documentary Film Festival. It had many great films: long format, short format and PSAs that deal with different cultural, economic, and human rights issues in the developing world.

One of the films presented yesterday was Value of a Life: Aids in Africa Revisited.  I thought it was poignant. In 2003, the U.N.’s HIV/AIDS special representative returned to Africa to document his journey. In the short film, Lewis travels with a group of Canadian agencies throughout Africa. They challenge the Canadian government to pass legislation allowing patents to be circumvented in favor of inexpensive, generic AIDS drugs. Of course after the screening I just got mad about the unfairness of patents on intellectual propety.

While pharmaceutical companies such as Merck and Pfizer have reduced the price of AIDS drugs, this is not enough and not nearly as effective as allowing generic drugs to be made. I think more people need to be outraged by this.

The pharmaceuticals industry has made huge investments in research and development. On the whole, the research has paid off, both in the development of effective new drugs and in profits for the firms. But the rest of their argument is self-serving…

Without keeping high prices, drug companies argue that it couldn’t develop many of these drugs at all. How can this be true? Given the hundreds of millions of dollars that pharmaceutical companies make thanks to intellectual property rights—compared to how much of this money is allotted for research. Most likely the amount of money spend in marketing and image branding exceeds what is going into research. In 2004, Pfizer is listed as having 52.5 billion in healthcare revenue and less than $8 billion going toward research and development

Read the rest of this entry »

April 23, 2006

Because Everyone Knows Someone

Posted in AIDS, South Africa at 2:18 pm by greatparanoiac

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Last Thursday a top AIDS activist group pulled out of South Africa’s delegation to a U.N. forum on HIV/AIDS, saying it could not “lend respectability” to the government’s approach to the pandemic.

South Africa’s approach to AIDS has always received criticism from the international community. This is nothing new–what is upsetting is that they undermine and refuse to support the work of local agencies.

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) which often clashes with President Thabo Mbeki’s government on AIDS policy, said after they were left out of the upcoming UN meeting:

“officials had excluded critics and handpicked supporters to show a united front at the coming U.N. General Assembly Special Session on AIDS.”

The activists claim 900 South Africans die of AIDS-related diseases every day and estimates that 5.6 million of the country’s 45 million people are infected with HIV. TAC’s campaign for anti-retroviral drugs is credited with pushing the South African government to announce a public treatment program in 2003. Despite this, TAC claims access to the drugs has been slow because of a “lack of political will by Health Minister Dr. Tshabalala-Msimang.”

What can be done to raise  HIV/AIDS awareness in a country when the government is covering their eyes, ears and mouths like the “See No Evil” monkeys? Turn to the local media to mobilize people?

Read the rest of this entry »