2005 offers a glimmer of Hope in Northern Uganda
Posted on December 31st, 2004
Some good news as 2004 draws to a close and we move into 2005. The Uganda government reports that it and the LRA (Lords Resistance Army) have agreed to sign ceasefire accord, giving the best possibility of peace in years. The LRA has waged a vicious war for nearly two decades abducting more than 20,000 children, terrorizing the people and displacing 1.6 million people creating in what was until the Asian earthquake the worst humanitarian disaster in the World.
This is the best possible news, not just for those directly affected in the North, but for the whole of Uganda. It offers IDPs living in camps a chance to now turn their attention to developing their shattered communities. This is a good thing because until now the IDPs have been dependent on humanitarian aid. But with the world’s major aid agencies attention turned to providing assistance for survivors of the huge earthquake, in what will surely be a prolonged relief effort, there will that much less for other crises around the world.
Let us hope 2005 proves the beginning for peace in Northern Uganda.
Nature’s shock and awe in Asia
Posted on December 28th, 2004
In an event both shocking and awesome Nature has reminded us once again managed who really rules the world. The cataclysmic earthquake that occurred in the Indian Ocean killed tens of thousands in nearly a dozen countries, including victims on the East Coast of Africa, almost 4,000 miles away. As the death toll mounts by the hour, the unbelievable destruction that has been wrought across such a wide area serves as a reminder that no man, woman or child is an island.
Like millions across the world I have watched the unfolding events with a sense of shock and awe. Shock at the level of destruction wreaked, awe for the sheer power of nature. This is the sort of stuff you see in movies. And there may have been those who paused for a moment saying there but for the grace of god go I, and switched channels, thanking their stars they were not the ones affected. They are wrong. Events like this affect us all; nature has been constantly reminding us of her capriciousness and how we are still at her mercy. And it is not just in environmental disasters that endanger us. Threats of a more lethal mutated bird flu returning to kill on an even greater scale are still there. The AIDS pandemic that has already taken million rages across the world with ever greater intensity while scientists nervously keep watch for a return of the deadly influenza virus that killed millions in the 20th century along with many more lethal microorganisms, bacteria and viruses lurking.
As a massive relief effort gets underway to help the survivors, it is clear that more than ever the world needs to pull together to mount coordinated responses to global catastrophes, not just piece meal approaches, with big sounding words, meaningless platitudes and empty pledges of funds. Greater exchange of information, more sharing of vital research; refocusing efforts on real health problems rather than vanity issues; better preventions, more time given to developing vaccines, pooling of efforts to create cheaper new drugs and treatments for all. These are the things that will help us overcome the next disaster, environmental or otherwise. The world is more connected than ever and as we have seen such disasters can happen anywhere, anytime affecting any one of us.
Posted on December 28th, 2004
AIDS has always been a emotive, controversial and contentious subject. And no more than in Africa, where all kinds of conspiracy theories about it’s origins abound. Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmentalist, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2004 certainly has her own views on the origins of AIDS s Maathai as saying that HIV/AIDS was created by scientists “for the purpose of mass extermination.” She added, “AIDS is not a curse from God to Africans or the black people. It is a tool to control them designed by some evil-minded scientists, but we may not know who particularly did.” Ms Maathai also argues that condoms cannot prevent transmission of the virus.
Her remarks were greeted with consternation, after all here was a supposedly educated woman, a Nobel laureate no less, holding beliefs that should be consigned to the dustbin of history; since science has proven otherwise. Ms Maathai was eventually forced to explain (apologise) for her unconventional views
But she is not alone, after all Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa, one of the most affected countries in the world has equally he has controversial views on AIDS – most notably his belief that HIV is not the cause of the disease. And there are many others on the continent who harbor such view albeit not so publicly.
Perhaps it has to do with a more than sneaking suspicion that all is not well in the AIDS world – no sooner had Mathai apologised than the Nevaripine scandal arose. And the South African government was quick to react with the ANC accusing “….the US government of conspiring with the pharmaceutical industry “to tell lies to promote the sales of Nevirapine in Africa, with absolutely no consideration of the health impact of those lies on the lives of millions of Africans.”
Why do such beliefs persist so strongly given the abundant scientific knowledge that has been gathered about AIDS. Perhaps it is to do with the less than truthful way Africans have been treated as far as AIDS is concerned from the very beginning. Or the sneaking suspicion that some one somewhere is profiting off AIDS. Let’s be candid of course the pharmaceutical industry is. Profiting that is. Big Pharma have been the most vocal opponents of the generics. And to what should be their lasting shame, it was AIDS advocates not the WHO, who fought to get cheap drugs on the approved list (pre-qualification) of essential medicines. They have now been withdrawn, and no one is sure what is going on. Except the nagging feeling that something somewhere is not quite right, something is not being done.
In the third decade of an epidemic unlike any other, with all the research and knowledge gathered, surely someone must have a cure or a vaccine. After all we are now able to clone sheep and cats, and people soon enough if all is to be believed.
As the year 2004 draws to a close, with less than 2% of the people who need life saving medicines. Every reason (excuse) has been given under sun, for this gross failure to make drugs accessible on the continent despite the price falling from $10,000 dollars annually in 2001 to $140 by 2004. They have ranged from spurious to legitimate; Africans inability to tell time so they would not know when to take their pills; the lack of doctors and infrastructure.
Hey even the defense industry smelt an opportunity (a rat) – and this is serious – putting a proposal to PEPFAR (the Bush flagship $15 billion dollar programme)- to get drugs to the people arguing they have the qualifications and logistical support
Even as one of the most ardent supporter of the fight against AIDS, one has to start questioning the current state of play. Perhaps I too should become a conspiracy theorist – or would that make me a conspiracist.
South African Doctor Says Benefits Of Navirapine Outweigh Any Risks – Monday, December 20, 2004:-
Guns, Bullets and Medicine:-
Nobel Peace Prize Winner Attempts To Explain Comments About Origins of HIV, Says Statements Taken Out of Context:-
Posted on December 23rd, 2004
I’m in a quandary whether to wish seasons greetings this year. Perhaps it’s the story that I posted of a story of a warning of a grim Christmas for the hungry in Southern Africa. Maybe it’s the admission by the U.N. admitting that it’s Sudan policies are failing; Sudan where more than 50,000 people have died this year. Maybe it’s the report from Unicef that highlights a decade of failures for the world’s children. Or the devastating toll HIV/AIDS is taking in the world. For those of us who have our health, access to water, drugs, food, basic necessities denied to tens of millions, the words may ring hollow. So instead of wishing seasons greetings, I will acknowledge the passing of 2004. May the coming year bring greater hope and better gifts than the previous.
HIV/AIDS – Taking Stock
Posted on December 18th, 2004
Another year has passed in the fight against AIDS. Another year to take stock about how the battle is going. World AIDS – December 1st came and passed. I did not share my thoughts on that daym, though a veritable flood of words was written about the progress in the fight against AIDS. It seemed all were in agreement, the news is disheartening. The fight is not going well.
UNAIDS had just released its report “2004 Report on the global AIDS epidemic” – http://www.unaids.org/bangkok2004/report_pdf.html. It makes for grim reading. The march of HIV/AIDS in 2004 continues relentlessly. Women are being infected more and more, in Africa an astonishing 75% of infections among young people are in girls and young women.
The much vaunted WHO 3×5 treatment program is in complete disarray. Not only was there never any hope of meeting the targets, but even the question of whether the drugs that were to be used in treatment were even approved by the WHO. One week, they were, only to be withdrawn the next week, and then back the week after that. In another blow the generic drug companies started withdrawing drugs themselves voluntarily, further reducing the prospect of cheap drugs for people in the third world. And one more nail in the coffin of cheap medicines was the news that the much vaunted prevention of Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission program underpinned by the drug Nevirapine was based on flawed and possibly false data.
The year 2004 has been all bout drugs, drugs, drugs – because this was the year it would become possible for millions of people with HIV to actually get access to treatment. It did not happen – and that is a tremendous tragedy. But it is not for want of trying. Even as AIDS advocates were trying to get greater treatment access, others were fighting a rear guard action on the ABC’s of prevention. Trying to get it back in the headlines, to remind people all aspects of prevention were required.
2004 may seem like a bleak year in the fight against AIDS – but I’m always reminded it could have been so much worse. True millions have dies, but without the efforts and sacrifices being made by millions of activists, advocates, people living with HIV/AIDS and many more, the number could have been ten times greater. A new year approaches, a new year to do better than the last and fight the good fight. Never Give Up.