Greedy pharmaceutical companies are condemning millions of people with HIV to die needlessly. Why are gay and AIDS organisations silent about this crime against humanity?
Millions of people with AIDS in Third World countries are dying needlessly. The price-fixing of HIV treatments at $10,000 to $15,000 a year is a death sentence. People who could survive, don’t. They are dying because of the greed of western pharmaceutical companies.
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) manufacturers some of the most effective anti-HIV drugs, which are credited with helping to save the lives of people with HIV – in the West.
GSK has just announced record annual profits of $7.6 billion, but it is refusing to make it’s life-saving drugs available to people with AIDS in poor countries, at prices they can afford.
There are 32 million people with HIV in the developing world. GSK’s policy means that most of them will die. Where is the outcry?
In its defence, GSK says that it is making these drugs available to African countries at 85 per cent discount, bringing the price down to around $1500 a year. But it refuses to extend the scheme to the Middle-East, South Pacific, Asia, Latin America, and the impoverished ex-Soviet countries (where there are huge AIDS pandemics).
Even at $1500 a year, GSK’s price cut is not enough. The drugs are still too expensive for most of the world’s people with HIV.
Moreover, GSK is now threatening legal action against the Indian generic drugs company Cipla, which wants to export low-cost versions of life-saving HIV treatments to Uganda, Ghana and other Third World nations. Cipla’s prices are $350 a year for the same drugs that GSK prices at $15,000.
Millions of people are dying while GSK profits at the rate of over $21 million a day!
Before we go blaming the politicians for allowing this to happen, we should examine the response of our own community organisations and leaders.
Why are so many AIDS agencies silent about this crime against humanity? When did you last hear the head of an AIDS organisation denouncing this exploitation of suffering and profiteering from illness?
The reason you haven’t heard a squeak is because many AIDS organisations are in the pockets of the major drug companies. They accept corporate sponsorship, hospitality and subsidies. Even some AIDS activist and treatment groups have compromised their independence and integrity by wining and dining with the pharmacological monopolies, accepting their funding and freebies.
The rot began in the early 1990s, when organisations representing people with HIV began accepting free trips to international AIDS conferences, paid for by the drug giants. They promised it would not influence their judgement, but it has. Whereas 15 years ago, AIDS campaigners were vocal in their criticism of exorbitant prices for life-saving therapies, today you hardly hear a word of criticism.
Most lesbian and gay organisations are no better. Since HIV predominantly affects heterosexuals in the under-developed world, they seem not to care. In their mono-focused, self-centred view, these people dying from a treatable disease is of no concern to them because “HIV is not a gay issue”. In other words: too bad if heterosexual people are dying. That’s their problem (sic).
What a heartless attitude!
And how damn stupid! If there are 32 million people with HIV in the poorer countries, then it is likely that about 3.2 million of them are lesbian, gay or bisexual. Isn’t that more than enough to warrant gay concern and compassion?
But this issue is not, of course, about numbers or sexuality. It is about caring for the plight of all human beings in need.
Just because HIV in the Third World does not predominantly affect queers, does that mean homosexual human rights groups should avert their gaze? And say and do nothing?
Judging from their silence, this is exactly what some top-dog gays think. Their attitudes are symptomatic of the single-issue selfishness that characterises so many modern-day gay rights campaigners. Whereas the lesbian and gay liberation pioneers of three decades ago had a politics of solidarity with everyone suffering exclusion and discrimination, today’s gay establishment is inward-looking and self-absorbed.
It is also much more conservative and business oriented. This is partly because the leading gay rights organisations are heavily influenced by the corporate sponsors and gay business interests that fund their campaigns.
All those back tie fund-raising dinners have had their corrosive effect. The gay establishment has embraced the corporate mentality. Although the right to make a profit was never one of the demands on the barricades outside the Stonewall Inn in 1969, it has become the tacit, unwritten assumption of nearly every major, multi-million grossing organisation that campaigns in our name.
When corporate funding and big money donors are what keeps some homosexual lobbyists in business, they become fatally compromised. Proof of that compromise is the way so many lesbian and gay leaders decline to speak out against the hand that feeds them – even when that hand is soaked with the blood of people with HIV.
RAINBOW NETWORK website, 1 March 2001
Copyright Peter Tatchell 2001. All rights reserved.