Socialist Worker

AIDS: two World Trade Centre disasters in Africa every day

Issue No. 1777

We saw the pictures of the victims of the 11 September suicide attacks. We heard the stories of their lives and glimpsed the pain of their relatives.

Every day the number dying from AIDS in Africa is twice the death toll at the World Trade Centre. Imagine if the media gave equal space to those people. Imagine if they showed us the pain of those victims and the courage of those who care for them.

A new book by award-winning photographer Gideon Mendel strives to show us the human beings behind the AIDS statistics. It is hard to read the book and look at its pictures without crying. It is impossible to read it without becoming angry at those responsible for the slaughter.

World AIDS Day on Saturday will see lots of words and speeches from official figures about the suffering and the threat from AIDS. Few will point the finger at:

  • The giant drugs firms which have held on to the patents for lifesaving drugs, pushing the price far beyond the reach of the vast majority of Africans.
  • The IMF and World Bank, which have forced poor countries to impose privatisation and user fees for health and education. What sort of a world is it where, because of privatisation, the family of someone on the verge of dying from AIDS cannot afford to buy water to bathe him?
  • The banks and financial institutions which keep pumping debt repayments from the poor. This means the poor are denied care and vital information.
  • The governments which have bombed Afghanistan. Just 10 percent of the US's $343 billion a year military budget could transform the lives of many of the people who will otherwise die of AIDS.

Africa has 70 percent of the 36 million people worldwide living with HIV and AIDS. But AIDS is spreading fast to other areas. Already four million people in India live with HIV. The figures are soaring in Burma, Vietnam and China. These are all countries where globalisation has pulled people into cities without welfare facilities, tearing apart families and any security in people's lives.

Unless people come before profit we will have two, three, perhaps five World Trade Centre death tolls from AIDS every day.

A Broken Landscape: AIDS and HIV in Africa by Gideon Mendel, £19.95. Exhibition at Oxo Gallery, Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street, London SE1, until 9 December, and in other parts of Britain next year (see www.action

Drugs profits still kill

The World Trade Organisation talks in Qatar are supposed to have cleared the way for cheap AIDS drugs. But, as the New Scientist wrote this week, 'as developing countries celebrate a hard-won victory, rich countries are already gearing up to limit its impact. 'They will try to impose so many conditions that poor countries would be little better off than before.'

Countries have won the right, in 'emergencies', to produce their own copies of patented drugs or to buy them from elsewhere. But there will be another meeting next year in Geneva, behind closed doors, which will look at the conditions under which this takes place.

If the price of drugs does fall, they can still be out of reach for countries like Mali in West Africa where the entire health budget is less than £2.50 per person.

Simply having drugs is not enough to defeat AIDS. The IMF/World Bank regime of austerity has destroyed much of the health infrastructure which is needed to fight against disease.

'Today in the cemeteries they are burying people as if it is a competition. Sometimes there are more than six funerals happening at the same time. While the one funeral party is praying, the other one is shovelling in the soil, and the other is placing the coffin in the grave. In Ndola and Kitwe, mourners have to dig their own graves because the gravediggers have not been paid for four months. The first worry when someone dies is money. A body can remain at home for a week because there is no money for a van to take it away.'
Violet Mukosha, volunteer worker in Ndola, part of the Zambian copper belt

'In my life I have had 11 children. Seven have passed away. The first, Lawrence, died in 1993, and one of my children has died every year since. AIDS has carried my family away like a flood. I look after 16 of my children's children. What have we done to deserve this?'
Miriam Mbwana, Malawi

'I have been ill for a long time. In 1998 I discovered that I was HIV positive. We live in two rooms here. There are my mother, father, their eight children and 11 grandchildren-21 of us altogether. Sometimes we do not have enough food. My father usually bathes me in the morning before he goes to work, but since we have to pay for water even washing can be a problem. I was given some drugs which made me feel much better, but I cannot afford them now.'
Mzokhona Malevu, Enseleni squatter camp, South Africa. He is now dead

'This disease has dramatically increased our workload. We see many teenage mothers with psychological trauma after they lose their babies and discover they have HIV at the same time. We have to go on with our lives serving the community.'
June Mngadi, nurse, children's ward, Ngwelezane, South Africa. Half the children's admissions at the hospital are HIV related

'Officially we have beds for 110 patients, but we now have about 130, and 250 outpatients a day. We lack equipment, we lack staff, we don't have medicines, we don't even have plaster tape, so we have to use masking tape to attach drips or splints to patients' arms. We are overwhelmed.'
Dr Maurice Bonongwe, hospital director, Nkhotakota, Malawi

'I had nine children. All are dead now but one. I'm keeping eight orphan grandchildren and my blind husband. Sometimes I'm so angry, suffering here to take care of so many with no income. These children have no clothes. I don't have a bed. We sleep in the dust. I am growing old and I can no longer grow food. Who will keep my grandchildren? How will they survive once I am gone?'
Anna Mulenga, Zambia

'When you are poor and you get sick it is much worse. In our compound many people who have the disease die quickly because of hunger and lack of medicine. Poverty and this disease, they work hand in hand, especially in a family where the breadwinner is sick. When the breadwinner is sick on Monday, the family has no food on Tuesday. It means the whole family is sick. We try to take care of our patients. When they are very ill all we can offer is our company and support.'
Violet Mwinuka, volunteer worker, Zambia

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Sat 1 Dec 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1777
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