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Home > World

Crisis, what crisis?

AIDS: the cost of caring and the cost of not.

28 November 2003

Imagine there is a diabetic child in front of you. As it stops bouncing around and begins to turn blue, just before its eyes stop bulging and retreat to the back of its head, they beseech you. If the child is not given insulin within the hour, the child will die. You have an insulin injection pen in your hand. You could save this child's life. Easily. You're just a click away. Do you do it? Do you save this childís life? Or do you simply hold out your money-hand to the childís penniless parents. After all, injection pens don't grow on trees. To put it another way, do you honestly care about other human beings, or only about the ones that live under your roof?

According to the statistics, of the 40-46 million people affected globally by Aids, almost 75% live in Africa. South Africa is the country most badly affected, with almost five million of its population HIV positive. The UN estimates that by 2010, there will be 20 million children in sub-Saharan Africa who have lost at least one parent to the disease. Of course there are now drugs available, anti-retroviral drugs which have slashed the death toll in the West, affording millions of sufferers the opportunity not to die of AIDS. Unfortunately, your average African sufferer has neither a functioning national health nor a lifetime subscription to BUPA.

Recently however, drug prices have gone down. Having done everything they could to maintain a monopoly of super-unaffordable drugs for so long - such as decreeing their drugs 'intellectual property' and applying patent protection laws, thus making cheaper copies of the drug illegal - drug companies were eventually forced to lower their prices. But for someone with no dollars whatsoever, $700 is not that different to $12000. It's still not going to happen. It still isn't enough.

This week a couple of significant things happened. The first was that a Muppet called Kami, a furry yellow five-year-old HIV-positive AIDS-orphan who appears on South Africa's version of Sesame Street, was appointed 'a global champion for children' by UNICEF. Kami made her first official appearance for UNICEF on Wednesday when she helped to launch a new UNICEF report entitled 'Africa's Orphaned Generation'. Great. Kami has been helping to create an atmosphere of respect and understanding for African kids with the killer disease for years. In the words of one AIDS activist, Kami helps to create 'a culture of acceptance'. Great.

Obviously, anything that helps kids deal with something so unimaginably horrific is a good thing, a genuinely great thing, but really, a Muppet explaining to kids that you can't catch AIDS from giving an HIV-chum a hug. We know thatís not the best we can do. Fuck acceptance. Why don't countries that can afford to simply start saving peopleís lives? You know, like *giving* people who have no money and who will otherwise die, giving them, free of charge, the anti-retroviral drugs which will save their lives? Are we being laughably naÔve here? Is this worse than listening to John Lennon singing, 'Imagine there's no countries'?

Well, maybe. If it wasn't for that pesky War on Terror, eh? Bush could save millions of lives from brutal death in the blink of an eye.

The second thing that happened this week was that the British government, specifically development secretary Hilary Benn, announced a 'radical u-turn' on the AIDS and HIV epidemic. That is, they decided to go back on their official policy of not giving a fuck and are now determined, whatever the cost, to do everything within their power to *be seen to give a fuck*. What they intend to do can best be summed up in this sentence from Wednesday's Guardian: 'The UK government now intended to make Aids 'a centrepiece' of the G8 and European Union meetings in 2004, said Mr Benn.' Great.

Maybe it's time we in the wealthy West owned up. Maybe it's time we admitted that we're actually not all that concerned that three million people died of AIDS last year. After all, if we're unlucky enough to get sick, we can - at worst - always rely on our health service, such as it is, to at least keep us alive. And let's face it, those that are dying, they're only fucking Africans.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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