The Body Covers: The XIII International AIDS Conference
Plenary: The Jonathan Mann Memorial Lecture
July 9, 2000
This morning South African Judge Edwin Cameron (an important Constitutional Court Judge in South Africa) gave the first Jonathan Mann Memorial Lecture. In an intensely impassioned, moving lecture he told us what we wanted to hear: that the time for action is now, that we have to develop systems to provide treatment for the millions of infected people in Africa, and that the South African government has to recognize the crisis it is in. Cameron -- as well as several of the speakers that followed him -- also criticized drug companies harshly and asked for a reduced cost-of-drugs for developing countries. The members of the audience, I think, were all in agreement.
However, in my opinion, he neglected to acknowledge that nothing is so simple -- that even with free drugs we will not be able tackle the problem and that the drug companies are not abstract institutions whose only goal is to make money. Drug companies are publicly traded companies. In fact, many of the medical professionals in the audience at this lecture have a vested interest in these companies. He also forgot to remind us that not a small percentage of our retirement and kids' college funds are invested in drug companies (whether directly or in mutual funds). He forgot to ask us how much of that we are willing to personally sacrifice to improve the situation in the developing world. He forgot to point out that perhaps as much as half of the medical professionals who are attending the AIDS conference from the developed world had their airplane trip to South Africa paid for by drug companies, not to mention that a significant portion of the research we do is linked and funded by them. So it is a complex issue, and although we Westerners are clearly not ready for deep analysis, he told us what we wanted to hear, which is at least part of the truth, and we all started the conference full of energy.
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