World AIDS Day and the climate negotiations

By Crystel Hajjar 

December 1st is World Aids Day, and marks 30 years since AIDS was first identified.  As of 2009, there are about 33.3 million people worldwide living with HIV. This is difficult to go unnoticed now that I am in South Africa, where 15% of the total HIV positive people live.

It really did not occur to me to write about it until it was brought up by one of my fellow delegates. Then, I immediately thought that this is the perfect opportunity for me to talk about the pharmaceutical industry and its disturbing policies, an issue that I am extremely passionate about.

So I am at the UN climate change negotiations, which is for most people as far from AIDS as it could get, but no.

In fact, the link exists.

While AIDS itself is not directly influenced by the consequences of climate change, I am very comfortable saying that the politics around both issues are similar.

In all honesty, I don’t know a lot about AIDS, but what I do know is that AIDS medications is extremely unaffordable specifically for people in poorer African regions who are more susceptible to AIDS due to issues such as lack of knowledge on contraception, sexual health and AIDS pandemic in general.

The point is that the life of a person with HIV infection in North America and Europe is hugely different than that of someone in Africa.

Pharmaceutical companies have developed anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs that slow down the progression of the disease, therefore increasing the chances of a longer life span with decreased symptoms for patients. Unfortunately, patients in many areas of the world do not have access to these drugs. American drug companies developed this drug over a decade ago. It seems to me that in such a time span, AIDS shouldn’t be as much of an issue, but it is. It is estimated that nine million out of the 15 million people who are in clinical need of ARVs do not have access to them.

Pharmaceuticals have patent pools on anti-retroviral drugs which means that they have monopoly over producing and trading them. Considering the high demand on this drug, its price is relatively expensive, which makes it extremely unaffordable for poorer communities. Moreover, multiple trade agreements are in place or are currently being negotiated to make it even more difficult to create generic version of the drug. This is a great example of how corporations are actively denying millions of people the access to a basic human right – essential medicines that is.

This same issue of unequal balance of power stands out right now, right here, in those negotiations that I am attending. There are great corporate pressures  that are influencing the current negotiations and are holding the participants to reach a legally binding agreement on climate change.

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