Give with one hand and taketh with the other
Posted on August 29th, 2003
What constitutes progress? If one considers it most of the news is downright disheartening. I attended the International AIDS Society Conference in PAris in July 2003. AT the main Plenary, while people were congratulating themselves on how well and what massive strides they have made in the AIDS field.It was left to one man to point out that scientific advances are no use if they do not benefit mankind. Nelson Mandela pointed out that the majority of people with AIDS are yet to benefit from these so called advances.
When I first started medicine there were perhaps a handful of people In Africa who had access to AIDS drugs. It is the case today, almost a decade later. And once again, it seems cheap HIV drugs are still a dream following the latest round of WTO negotiations. Big Pharma and Big Org are at it again. Rejecting moves to make drugs available for the people who need them. So what will it take, clearly the prospect of people dying in their thousands daily is not enough. An act of God, a meteorite strike in the Earth? Who knows, but it sometimes feels for every step we take forward we go two backwards.
Safe Health Care In Africa
Posted on August 18th, 2003
It is not often one gets a chance to participate in a process or do something that may affect the lives of millions in a positive way, but I got that chance recently when I testified before a US Senate Congressional Committee on the Issue of Safe Health Care in Africa on 31st July 2003. Not many people can say they have done that.
If anyone has been following this website in recent months, this is an issue I’ve been writing about for almost a year, mostly in exasperation at the controversy and debate that ensued following the claims by a researcher Davi Gisselquist that the transmission of HIV may have been aided by unsafe health practices.
To anyone who has worked in Africa and knows about the conditions, this of course made sense. But not to people in the establishement who came out in chorus saying it was not possible, sex, sex, sex, more sex and only sex could be the case.
Irked by this, when I was offered the chance to be able to be able to have my say, in front of an august body such as the US Senate, I jumped at the chance. I was irked and irritated, because all these “experts” making statements on the issue seemed to be ignoring the very people they were supposed to be helping. An all to unfortunate occurence these days in the self perpetuating world of development and dependency.
So come the day of testifying, cloaked in my righteous anger at those who seemed so blind to what Africa needs, I was not nervous at all at the prospect of testifying before the senate. In fact the Gods I was sure I felt were on my side. Coming into Washington DC, I and my colleagues bumped into Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve in USA, a person who some say is the most important and powerful person in the US. We walked along for a short while and had a brief conversation during which we mentioned that we were going to be testifying at the Senate on Safe Health Care in Africa. On hearing that this was our first time, Mr. Greenspan commented “You don’t look nervous enough to be testifying at the US Senate!” It was just our naivete we said. He mentioned something about our youth!
Testifying was far easier than I expected. Oh far easier than the amount of preparation that went into doing the testimony. It was supposed to take place at 10.00am, and I had to catch a 6 am flight, but I was awake until 3am finishing my testimony.
Upon entering the Senate, I felt a familiar feeling, the adrenaline rush just before I’d go onto the field for a rugby match, or before a swimming meet. I was determined I was going to do my best because the words of my testimony were not just mine, they were the words of the people I had met in Uganda on 10 day trip just prior to the testimony, the people I had promised I’d tell the US Senators about what Ugandans and Africans thought and wanted.
I was also frankly interested in seeing who was on the opposing side as it were. I wanted to know just what sort of person would stand in the US Senate and argue against Africans getting access to the same standards of healthcare that they (people)in the west are accustomed to. Who would dare stand up and testify to such a thing. And I dared them in my testimony, saying those who believed in such a thing should come and stand before healthworkers in Uganda or Africa and tell them why they who are on the frontlines of the fight against AIDS and other diseases in Africa should not have the tools to help them.
The hearing started late, but no one really noticed, all were focused on the hearing and the outcome, would the case be made for funding for safe health care in Africa?
I was the only African representative testifying on befalf of 800 million people. To my pleasant surprise, there was no opposition, all of the witnesses panelists)were agreed on the need to address the problem with the tools that already existed. And all too soon it was over, and everyone was smiling. We had done, it seemed that we were one step closer to getting something concrete about the very real dangers about unsafe healthcare in Africa.
As for myself, did I do well? I felt on top of the world. I felt I did justice, to all those who exhorted me to go to Washington DC, US and tell the Senators their words, I did exactly that.
Posted on August 18th, 2003
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