Preventable?


Across the Atlantic Ocean there is a plague. Some may argue that is it not preventable, but it is. The plague that is in question here is Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), and it has hit Africa by storm. It is estimated that there are “4 to 5 million people who have tuberculosis are co infected with [Human Immunodeficiency Virus] HIV.” (Columbia Encyclopedia) The world communities have turned their backs on many African nations in their time of need. The lack of political will on the part of western governments along side the incredible greed of the pharmaceutical industry, have resulted in needed drugs not getting to Africa, which has lead to the suffering and death of millions. This issue will be addressed by looking at the impact that AIDS is having on African people; how the western governments have turned a blind eye to this issue and how the pharmaceutical industry has placed profits ahead of ethics. Solutions to this complex and treatable problem will also be offered.


AIDS has devastated the African people. The death in many African nations is staggering. “Since the start of this pandemic to the end of 1999, some 14.8 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa have died” (Secure the Future p.1). As a result in the increased death rate, “schooling in suffering as enrolment rates drop, poor families remove their children from school, and teachers and support staff succumb to the epidemic. A cornerstone of development--- education--- is being undermined.” (UNAIDS) South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland have been hit the hardest by the AIDS virus. For example, in Botswana a country with a population of only 1.5 million people, 190,000 people are infected with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)/AIDS. In these countries life expectancy is projected to drop from 61 years of age to 39. (Secure the Future p. 2) Currently all over the globe there are approximately 40 million people living with AIDS. A staggering 36 million of these people do not have access to the proper drugs and treatment they need. AIDS has now become the number one killer in Africa (Secure the Future). These numbers seem unrealistic, yet behind each number there is a name and behind each name there is a family who has a devastating story to tell. There are countless stories of women losing their children and babies becoming orphans as a result of this devastating disease. Zena Salum, a citizen of Tanzania, lost her daughter and son in law to AIDS, and now her infected grandson is near death. (Aids in Africa) These heart wrenching stories are all too common to the people of Africa. It is now estimated that 95 percent of all HIV-positive orphans are African (Secure the Future p.3) One of the major problems concerns itself with mother to child transmission.


The economic implications are unbelievable. AIDS not only kills, it can also tear an entire nation apart.


Just as it kills [a] parents’ hope for their children, AIDS cuts down people in their prime working years thus eliminating family wage earners. It shreds household income as survivors try to support the sick” (Brooks p.C3).


In South Africa, it is predicted to cost the nation one percent of its gross domestic product by 2005, and deplete three quarters of the nation’s health budget. (Secure the Future p.2)


The world knows what is going on, however little is being done to stop this epidemic. One of the major problems lies with the inaction of the western governments and other international organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). In June 2001 the Canadian government passed Bill S-17 which extended a number of pharmaceutical patents from 17 to 20 years. This legislation was introduced in order to comply with WTO rulings. (Drug Cost p.1) The WTO held a forum on AIDS, where Canada was among the many rich nations “opposing a deal that would give poor countries access to cheaper generic drugs during a health crisis” (Drug Cost p.2). Canada’s generic companies are prevented from manufacturing drugs under the patent protection laws. These same companies cannot even make drugs to ship to other countries for humanitarian reasons. (Drug Cost p.2) The American government is no better, maybe even worse. The United States, in proportion