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HIV/AIDS

Two of the women with HIV featured in the fashion show put on by Doctors Without Borders in the DRC.

This past March, Doctors Without Borders, in association with Médecins du Monde and the Réseau National Des Organisations d’Assise Communautaires des PVV, put on a fashion show in the Democratic Republic of Congo where a dozen DRC women living with HIV/AIDS were used as the models. All twelve women donned fashions that reflected the colors that were symbolic of the HIV/AIDS movement. Local fashion designers who were part of the organization, Amicale des Stylistes de Kinshasa (which was also a partner in the event) created the clothing that was worn by the women.

Although Doctors Without Borders’ intentions were notable: “…to fight discrimination against people living with HIV, to alert the public to the tragic lack of access to treatment in the country, and to show what is possible when treatment is made available” (DRC: A Fashion Show Featuring Women Living With HIV), there still exists an estimated 300,000 individuals in the DRC who will only have a life expectancy of three years (DRC: A Fashion Show Featuring Women Living With HIV). And the primary reason why many of these individuals are faced with this short life expectancy is because of their inability to pay for the badly needed antiretroviral drugs (ARV), as well as other vital medications and health screenings needed to enhance their life expectancies.

The reality is HIV/AIDS is not a glamorous disease. It is filled with feelings of embarrassment, misery, and mortality. And by putting on a fashion, Doctor’s Without Borders is blinding society from the harsh reality of living with HIV/AIDS. In fact, Doctor’s Without Borders is violating Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care…” How so? Because Doctor’s Without Borders was not actually assisting the models with funding or supplying their medication; or even other DRC citizens living with HIV/AIDS.

Rather than put on a fashion show, I believe that Doctors Without Borders should have organized a fundraising event where other humanitarian relief organizations could donate money towards supplying the citizens of the DRC with condoms and ARVs. In addition, Doctors Without Borders could have devised a plan that would have raised awareness to the citizens of the DRC on how to prevent HIV/AIDS; like the proper method of using condoms, proper use and disposal of needles in hospital settings, and how to actually take care of oneself in the event that one contracts the disease.

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A trial for an HIV vaccine had to be stopped before the trail could be completed because the vaccine was doing the complete opposite of what it was supposed to do. A number of 1,836 were followed and 172 of them contracted the virus.  It was found to be making some men MORE LIKELY to get HIV.  Men that were uncircumcised and received the vaccine were more vulnerable to acquiring the virus after getting the vaccine even when not participating in risky behaviors.  This higher susceptibility however, lessen after 18 months.

Why is it that when researchers realized that the vaccine was not protecting anyone from getting HIV and when they had suspicions hat it was making some men more susceptible to HIV that this faulty vaccine being administered?  Did this pharmaceutical company figure that their profits would be worth more than the lives of these men that were put in danger?

This is an example of a human rights violation because Merck, the pharmaceutical company, should have been a guardian of health and stopped administering this vaccine once they had suspicions that the drug was failing men.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/18/health/research/trial-vaccine-made-some-more-vulnerable-to-hiv-study-confirms.html?_r=1&ref=health

I spent last weekend at school participating in a Southern African simulation game. Two sections of Southern African politics classes were divided into a dozen groups: African National Congress (ANC govt), common people, trade union, businesses, United States, etc. The goal of the game was for each team to advance its position in South Africa and for students to experience the complexities of working within an international economy and making decisions that are beneficial for both their individual team’s interests as well as for the people of the region.

As a member of the white business team, I had the difficult task of creating policies that would not only financially advance my team but also improve public opinion. The idea that rich white people hold a special responsibility to aid the less privileged is a global one, and in order for our team to be embraced by the common people, we had to create an image of caring and generosity.

Between the common people group and their Occupy South Africa movement and the government group’s general inaction, my team decided to create the Caring Corp foundation which would allocate charitable funds to various causes including education grants, building hospitals, tackling HIV/AIDS, etc.

One of the most surprising realizations throughout the game was the sheer neglect of all health-related concerns. South Africa has the one of the worst HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world, with 5.6 million infected in 2009. And yet the ANC ignored the problem and said that they had more urgent concerns within the context of the game. South Africa has a history of AIDS denial– former President Thabo Mbeki claimed that the cause of AIDS was not a virus, but poverty; this led to hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths.

Participating in this simulation game, I began to think about the right to health, and the parties responsible for maintaining that right for all people. If health is indeed a human right, is it then the government’s obligation to protect this right by providing access to healthcare? In our game, which accurately mirrored reality, the government was unresponsive to concerns over the growing AIDS problem and other access to health matters that affect the common people. In our attempt to improve our image within society, the white businesses teamed up to give back to the community, but in reality, how much can a few billionaires (and their billions) really do? Is it our responsibility to provide some short term relief (I say short term here because the nature of our charity depends upon rich peoples’ kindness, which like other kindnesses, is a temporary and fleeting resource).

This game taught me that health should not be a charitable endeavor in which the many poor must rely on the few rich for support. It also taught me that governments are constantly bombarded with urgent issues that need attention–and chronic lack of access to health take a backseat to economic and foreign affairs.

South African gold miners are at greater risk of developing TB due to the heavy presence of silica dust in their working environment

This past Saturday, the Deputy President of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe, spoke at an event held at the Driefontein Gold Fields mine, located in the Gauteng province of South Africa. The event was being held in observance of World Tuberculosis Day–a bacterial disease that has become all too common among South African mine workers. Individuals within this particular profession have been known to have a greater risk of contracting the disease due to the heavy presence of silica dusk within their working environment. Although silica is nothing more than a mineral found in rocks and soil, repeated inhalation of the mineral can lead to serious implications. In fact, a staggering 22,000 mine workers are infected with the disease yearly. However, TB is not the only illness in which these mine workers must battle daily; there is that widespread virus that occurs outside the workplace: HIV. Between 60%-70% of mine workers who have been infected with TB have also been infected with HIV as well. But these startling statistics have not stopped South Africa from doing all that it can to combat these two life-threatening illnesses.

Standing before an audience that included Gold Fields mine workers and their mining managers, union leaders, community development agencies, health workers and government representatives, Motlanthe vowed that the South African government would continue its initiative in supplying its citizens with the programs needed to successfully thwart TB and HIV. As a matter of fact, Motlanthe states that within the last few years, South Africa has made testing for TB and HIV more of a regular initiative, as opposed to an initiative that arises only during emergency outbreaks. Nick Holland, CEO of Driefontein Gold Fields mine, has also hopped on the bandwagon in making TB testing more readily available for his own mine workers. At the event, he spoke of the necessity of Gold Fields mine being able to diagnose TB in its earlier stages, as well as being able to develop more efficient means for testing for TB.

Even so, the progress that South Africa has made in their fight to stop the spread of TB has been incredibly noteworthy thus far. Just last year, South Africa embarked on a new approach in actually traveling to the homes of individuals who have had contact with a TB infected person. Furthermore, individuals were also tested and educated about HIV. During that mission, roughly 160,000 people were screened, where 3,000 individuals tested positive for TB. What is more, another 3,200 individuals actually tested positive for HIV. In addition to home screenings, since last year, South Africa has also been utilizing the GeneXpert machine, enabling the successful diagnosis of drug-resistant and drug-sensitive TB patients. At the moment, South Africa is number one in the manufacture of GeneXpert tests, having completed roughly 300,000 tests.

I think that it is important to acknowledge here that although South Africa is still in some aspects a developing nation, the initiatives, however, that the Country appears to be taking in the prevention of TB and HIV, in my opinion, would illustrate its advancement into a developed nation. When a nation’s own government makes it their endeavor to provide the utmost care to their citizens, a sense of unity transpires between all. As we saw in class during our attempts to revise TRIPS, it was difficult for us to come to an agreement on how high-income and middle-income countries could not only efficiently provide foreign aid to low-income countries, but also continue to recognize some of their own personal goals as well. In my opinion, South Africa sets a wonderful example of the potential that developing and also underdeveloped nations have in terms of the combat of life-threatening epidemics.

Today’s New York Times offers a long article on the case before India’s Supreme Court regarding licensing of off-patent versions of the leukemia drug imatinib.  Currently Novartis sells this under patent as Gleevec.  The article mentions the potential implication for availability not only of this effective cancer medication, but also for AIDS medications worldwide.  For the pro-patent case, the website IP Watch gives extensive coverage to the industry contentions and intellectual property aspects.

How do we make sense of all this data? This is a link to an animation of the relationship between health and wealth: gapminder

There are numerous TED Talks by Hans Rosling, a Swedish public health professor who developed the gapminder program, these talks are interesting and informative. Rosling uses his software to create visual representation of data, which allow analysis of trends over time. This is an interesting, 20 minute, talk that he gave at the US State Department where he calls for a re-framing of the term “developing world”: Hans Rosling TED Talk. Part of the argument posed by Rosling is that there is a huge degree of disparity within geographical regions, and within nations themselves, and also similarities between “developing” and “developed” nations.

The term “Developing Countries” might have made sense once.

Today it’s impossible to make a clear distinction between “developing” and “developed” countries.

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