What will end the HIV/AIDS epidemic?
This year, the International AIDS Conference is being held in Washington, D.C., a city with one of the highest HIV rates in the world. At 3 percent, the HIV rate in this country’s capital is close to that of Sub-Saharan Africa’s 5 percent rate. (unaids.org) This situation prevails despite the enormous wealth held by the 1% and the existence of a monumental academic and scientific establishment.
U.S. and European governments and capitalist profit-driven economies can perform “miraculous” face transplants and design predator drones capable of identifying and killing lone individuals in Syria or Pakistan. But when it comes to ending HIV — an epidemic caused by a blood-borne, preventable disease — the world’s global capitalist powers have few answers other than very expensive new drug treatments, an occasional new vaccine study or some unrealistic new approach that can only be offered to the few in rich nations.
With 8,000 new infections daily and more than 30 million dead, the masses are demanding change. This week, two national protest marches will hit the streets in D.C. Thousands will join the We Can End AIDS march on July 24 and the Keep the Promise march on July 29. Activists will bring the people’s demands to the very doors of the International AIDS Conference, which 20,000 are expected to attend.
In keeping with the history of AIDS activism, people living with the virus will be in the forefront of the direct actions and militant protests being planned. Major contingents from ACT UP, Housing Works, the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and more than 1,500 national and international AIDS organizations will be taking to the streets.
People with HIV and other activists are pushing back against the reactionary calls for cutbacks and austerity coming from capitalist governments, Wall Street banks and transnational corporations — all of which are trapped in a crisis of their own making and for which they have no solution.
Pharmaceutical companies have profited handsomely from the sale of HIV medications, which those living with HIV need to survive. Meanwhile, thousands in the U.S. have been placed on waiting lists for subsidized HIV medications in the past year. The AIDS Drug Assistance Program has become insolvent in many U.S. states and especially in the South, which has become a new epicenter for the epidemic. (www.nastad.org) Across the globe, tens of millions with HIV have no access to lifesaving drugs.
Some solutions to the HIV/AIDS crisis have been identified. Countries like Brazil, South Africa, India and Cuba have refused to pay big Pharma’s prices for HIV drugs — an impossible $10,000 to $20,000 per year. Producing their own generics, these countries have been able to drop costs to below $200 a year.
HIV medication in Cuba is free because socialist Cuba refuses to recognize the U.S.’s so-called intellectual property rights, which are designed to deny the manufacture of affordable generic drugs for 30 years! Cuba has the lowest HIV rate in the Caribbean, at .1 percent. Critical to its success was mass testing and partner-tracing of the population in 1985 and 1986, and government-sponsored sanitaria to treat and support all persons with HIV. Because so many infected people with HIV were identified, and because the entire population was educated by the government, HIV is not an epidemic in Cuba.
Racist and anti-LGBTQ oppression is written into the history of HIV. But also written there is the courage and resistance of people who have lived and are living with the virus — those who, despite their own illness, have fought back and continue to fight back against all the evils for which this disease has become synonymous.
This week, we salute the HIV-positive community, ACT UP and the organizers of both marches to demand immediate HIV treatment access to all who need it; money for AIDS and not for war; full funding for prevention, including access to clean syringes; the use of harm reduction principles and the end of the criminalization of those who use drugs; housing provisions for people living with the virus; and the preservation of the human rights of those who are incarcerated, LGBTQ people, immigrants and sex workers.
People with HIV have turned their oppression into the power and activism that can and will end the epidemic. All power to the people! n