Friday, March 03, 2006



Edited by

Has it occured to anyone out there that Bush's decision to offer funding for AIDS to African nations came at a rather...interesting... time?

I don't know how many of you remember this, but during the early days of the AIDS crisis, Doctor Peter Piot, the Director of UNAIDS suggested that rising number of AIDS victims would inevitably form a bell curve, the top of the bell curve representing a peak in the number of people who had succumbed to the lethal virus. According to Piot, in countries like Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, the peak would occur in the year 2005. Sadly the peak would be reached only after 33 percent of adults age fifty and under had become infected. Translated into modern English, when an entire generation of Africans had been wiped out.

What strikes me as unusual (to say the least) is that 2005 is the same year in which George W. Bush suddenly discovered Africa. After years of watching and doing nothing while American Corporations decided it was a neat idea to limit the availability of expensive drug cocktails to wealthy nations in Europe and North America, suddenly this dysfunctional conservative decided that it was time to develop a "conscience" and offer a helping hand to Africa.

To be frank, we really doubt if Bush cared two whoops in hell about anyone in Africa. As we have seen from Katrina, he doesn't even care about African-Americans right here in the United States much less those on another continent, so why the sudden surge in phony compassion? Well, it could just be that Bush wanted to pick up a few African American voters. Knowing Carl Rove and the manipulative mind games that he likes to play, it just might be that Rove and his favorite sociopath really did believe that a small investment might prove advantageous. And if they knew about Doctor Piot's bell curve theory, they may well have figured something to the effect of:

"Well, corporate America has reaped its profits; the bottom line has been filled. We have this loony theory about a bell curve that says deaths will begin to taper off now. What to hey, might as well kick in a few bucks now and take credit for what would have happened anyhow."

Why, you can almost hear the voices echoing from the 1980s when right wing bigots and homophobes were informing the American people that the right kinds of people were being infected and killed by this disease.

Far fetched? Probably not. George W. Bush has never been a friend of African Americans. In fact he has never been a friend to anyone the most repressive of white, evangelical Christians and his beloved Corporate America: and that includes the pharmaceutical companies who have consistently been eating away at our public health system in the name of profit and still more profit.

Well, someone should tell George W. Bush that while the Republican Party and Corporate America have been destroying our public health care system at the local, national, and global levels, the microbial world has been doing what nature intended for it to do. It has been evolving. Tuberculosis has returned with a vengeance, now immune to a wide range of antibiotics. Only one drug, vancomycin, now treats staphylococcus, a bacterium which is common in just about ever hospital setting; and if vancomycin should ever fail us, the effects would be nothing less than devastating. Drug resistant strains of malaria are surfacing across the face of the earth, especially in the above-mentioned African countries which have been plagued by the AIDS virus.

And yet, from what we're seeing on the inside of the health profession, nothing has changed. The drug companies are still pressuring doctors to prescribe medications, even when the medications will not have an effect on the disease in question. The companies still demand a return on their investment within three to five years of the release of a new drug. Many no longer produce inexpensive, but vitally needed medications because they can no longer earn a profit. In other words, the urge to make money has trumped the need to save lives.

We see it every time we go to the Doctor's office. We go to our doctor with a cold or a twenty-four hour bug. We pressure him to give us something, and he does. But what our doctors seldom tell us--even after revelations that this was a foolish practice-- is that mainstream antibiotics do not work against cold viruses. Not that the drug companies ever complained. They were turning a profit for all those years. But while the doctors and the drug companies were pushing their products, the microbes which their medications once eliminated were building an immunity. Nor will the situation get any better now that the drug companies are running commercials on radio and television. Only now the patient sees the ad on television; convinces him or herself that he actually needs the latest and most expensive medication; and the doctor--you guessed it--breaks down and writes out a prescription.

The end result?

Diseases that we had once considered "cured" are now back with a vengeance.

Granted, the discovery of antibiotics was a watershed event in the history of mankind, and for brief time it actually worked. But on another level, they lulled is unto a sense false security. Instead of taking a broad approach to public health, we allowed the drug companies* to narrow our options. We forgot that microbes are adaptable organisms, and while we depended on a strategy which would almost invariably prove ineffective, we allowed our public health system to disintegrate around us. Antibiotics should be the last line of defense, not the first. We forgot the old saying: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Don't get us wrong. We sincerely hope that the pharmaceutical companies will discover new medications for AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, staph infections etc. But let's be honest here. HAART (Highly Active Antiviral Therapy), the current method of treating AIDS, while effective for the few who can actually afford it, is also a boom for the pharmaceutical companies. We desperately need a vaccine for AIDS, and while we understand that this is a highly unstable virus which mutates easily, we also need to wonder why on the one hand the drug companies keep telling us that they need tax breaks and high prices fro research and development when then can't produce an AIDS vaccine. This virus has been known to medical science for the better part of 25 years, and all we get are expensive treatments which line the pockets of CEOs and shareholders. Are we the only people out here who this just a tad unusual? If you didn't know better you'd think that the pharmaceutical companies were opposed to the idea of an AIDS vaccine, simply because the HAART method has proven so lucrative.

In a sane society we would shore up our deteriorating pubic health care system and guarantee the following:

1. clean, drinkable water
2. safe, abundant food
3. decent primary health care
4. shelter/housing
5. education for citizens
6. equal rights and opportunies for women

That however, means that we would actually have to think of others, and this is something that the "Compassionate Conservatives" (what splendid oxmoron) and their Corporate Masters will never allow. In their eyes, the common good is defined in terms of social darwinism, of letting the strong survive and the week die. And in the case of public health care this is quite literally true.

You don't need to be a rocket scientist to know that lower income people, those who cannot afford decent shelter, nutriition, or health care are going to have weak immune systems. This is a given.

Of course the Republicans don't care because a majority of homosexuals and minorities don't vote for them, while the poor often don't even bother to vote period. The poor can't afford to purchase expensive medications, so the drug companies don't care either.

But that might change if the Avian flu mutates to the point where it can jump from human being to human being. In a very real sense of the word, the Avian Flu may well prove to be the great equalizer. The weak, the old, and the infirm are obviously at danger. That much is a given. But this particular strain may well pose a threat to the young and strong. Why? Because young, healthy people (ages 18 to 35) have very efficient immune systems. This particular flu produces such a virulent reaction in a healthy immune system that the lungs fill with antibody-ridden fluids.

We keep hearing that the scientists are working on a vaccine, that they are seeking new antivirals, and that's all for the good, but what exactly are we doing to repair our public health care system? Will we have the doctors, nurses, and emergency crews required to handle a pandemic like the Avian Flu? Will we haven the necessary plans in place? Will we have a strategy to handle this catastrophe? Considering our current attitude towards the greater good, towards big government, and our fellow human beings, we would be forced to conclude that we are not ready and that we won't be ready for a long time.

But then again, that's probably all right with Corporate America--as long as the profits keep rolling in.

We shifted our concern from the public to the private, worrying more about personal conditions than potential pandemics. As the united States (and to a lesser degree, Canada and western Europe) became more prosperous we lost interest in the prevention of communicable diseases and concentrated on the noncommunicable. Instead of worrying about threats which might prove disastrous to a large percentage of the population, we turned inward, seeking cures for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc., all of which are serious and merit attention, but not at the expense of public health in general. The irony here is that we know how to reduce the risks to some cancers: stop smoking and stop soaking up so much sun. We also know how to avoid certain forms of diabetes: switch to a healthier, low sugar, low calorie diet and exercise. Ditto to heart disease. But then again, that won't benefit the share holders and CEOS.

For additional reading we suggest the following books:

The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance
by Laurie Garrett
Published by Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, New York in 1994
Copyright held by Laurie Garrett


Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health
by Laurue Garrett
Published by Hyperion, New York in 2000
Copyright held by Laurie Garrett


BEAST said...

Its a bloody shame really.

When the medical field gets roughshod by profit-driven businessmen, this is what you get.

It gets worst when religious groups join the fray, especially in the case of religious fundies trying to halt the development of vaccines meant for preventing cervical cancers.

Wadena said...

Well, that was an excellent group effort. Lily sent me and I see she was right again. I placed a link to your blog in my sidebar.

Yes, the fact that we get only PROFITABLE drugs for the TREATMENT of AIDS is suspect. You are not the only ones who see this as a tad unusual.

And more than a tad sad.

Danny Haszard said...

Appreciate your blog,mental health consumers are the least capable of self advocacy,my doctors made me take zyprexa for 4 years which was ineffective for my symptoms.I now have a victims support page against Eli Lilly for it's Zyprexa product causing my diabetes.--Daniel Haszard