Radicalism and the HIV/AIDS Pandemic

HIV/AIDS affects some of the poorest countries in the world. Even within those countries, the disease often targets some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged populations. Over 70% of the forty million people living with HIV/AIDS are living in Africa (Dixon, McDonald, and Roberts). This large population of people living with HIV/AIDS has impacted the development of African nations. Thus, it has also impeded the nations’ abilities to manage the wide-spread health threat. Generally accepted economic theory suggests that the profusion of people living with HIV/AIDS reduces labor supply and productivity, reduces exports, and increases imports (Dixon, McDonald, and Roberts). HIV/AIDS hinders development and thus further stratifies the Western and developing nations. The long term economic consequences that have arisen from the HIV/AIDS crisis can, and may only, be aided with international economic support (Dixon, McDonald, and Roberts).

During the presidency of Thabo Mbeki from 1999 to 2008, the South African government denied the existence of HIV/AIDS. This denialism had a significant impact on the country’s population; HIV/AIDS denialism during this period has contributed to between 343,000 and 365,000 preventable deaths. Although the motive behind Mbeki’s denial of HIV/AIDS is still unclear, there are several popular assumptions. Martin Asser suggests that Mbeki’s denialism may be a result of the high prices of drug therapy and the inability to provide the expensive therapy for many South African citizens (Asser). If Asser’s assumption is correct, it exemplifies a South African leader denying a scientifically proven epidemic because of the lack of economic prosperity and resources in the given country. In this situation, Mbeki was clearly driven by the ‘radical’ viewpoint; Mbeki’s actions and public beliefs were influenced by the struggle between the rich and the poor states and societies.

To people struggling with HIV/AIDS, anti-retroviral drugs may be a lifesaving solution. Although there is no cure for AIDS, anti-retroviral therapy can reduce complications and prolong a patient’s life (UCSF Health). These drugs, however, are extremely expensive and very profitable for Western pharmaceutical giants, while proving inaccessible to many patients in developing countries. Many argue the unethicality of such astronomical drug prices and support the nationalization of the drug industry (Hirschler). Clearly, however, this could not exist under the capitalist system that dominates American industries. The class struggle between rich and poor international actors is reflected in the high prices of life-saving drugs and the inability of people in developing countries to access necessary treatment.

In an article published in The Journal of Pan African Studies, Teresa Barnes exhibits a unique way of looking at the HIV/AIDS pandemic:

We know about AIDS,” he said, “much more than the uncles who are supposed to care for us and try to teach us about it. But if you don’t care about yourself,” he went on, “it really doesn’t matter how much you know about HIV and AIDS, you are still going to put yourself in situations where you will probably get it.” (Barnes 73)

This quote acknowledges the fact that there are societal factors that contribute to the continued spread of HIV/AIDS. While it is clear that the lack of funding for medical treatments affects the ability of foreign patients to receive treatment for HIV/AIDS, it is a common misconception in America that this is the only reason for the widespread HIV/AIDS pandemic. This misconception is quite telling about the American perception of African countries. The general American population attributes an enduring health crisis occurring in Africa to the lack of economic resources in the affected countries. This idea further exemplifies the ‘radical’ or ‘Marxist’ view in the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Westerners immediately attribute foreign struggles to a lack of economic resources, thereby adopting the ‘radical’ perspective. Again, the lack of resources is important to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, but there are also other social factors that are generally ignored by the West.

It is clear that there are social factors that influence the spread of HIV/AIDS in developing nations, and that these social factors are often ignored by Western individuals and institutions. This idea can be further exemplified by The Product Red campaign. Product Red is a licensed brand that aims to draw awareness and fundraise for the HIV/AIDS epidemic in eight African countries (RED). According to the Product Red manifesto, “You buy (Red) stuff. We get the money, buy the pills and distribute them. … If they don’t get the pills, they die. We don’t want them to die. We want to give them the pills. And we can. And you can. And it’s easy” (Barnes). It is clear from the manifesto that Product Red markets a quick fix for the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This “quick fix,” provided in terms of medical supplies or economic resources, furthers the divide between the affected African countries and developed nations. The idea that economic resources or medical supplies acts as the primary solution to the HIV/AIDS epidemic suggests the ‘radical’ perspective. The class struggle between the rich and poor states prompts the rich states to respond to the needs of the poor states by providing economic resources, without fully evaluating the implications or efficacy of this aid.

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