(Vancouver, July 7) -- Hundreds of AIDS activists from around the world demonstrated during the opening session of the IX International AIDS Conference. Members of the activist group ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) unfurled banners during the ceremony proclaiming "Roche, Merck, and Abbot: Greed = Death", and "Demand Access for All", threw bundles of "AIDS Profiteer" money into the air, distributed leaflets to conference attenders, and brought the ceremony to a halt while they chants, whistles, and sirens. Among their chants targeting drug companies were "greed kills -access for all."
Activists expect a "don't worry, be happy" message to be the central theme of the XIth International AIDS Conference, due to the recent advent of a new class of anti-HIV drugs called protease inhibitors. "Some people are doing very well on these new therapies, and we do not argue with that fact," said ACT UP/Philadelphia member Asia Russell. "However, these people represent a very small fraction of the 19 million people on this planet who are living with HIV. The prices being charged for combination protease inhibitor therapy leaves millions of people with HIV for dead. Public health systems world-wide will be bankrupted."
Most people with HIV in the world will never be benefit from the treatment advances being discussed at this meeting."
Most of the conference's attention focused on a new class of drugs called protease inhibitors that show promise in slowing the progess of AIDS as a disease. However, many questions remain on the effects of long-term effects of these drugs, and because their price is so high, they will only be available to those whose national health programs or private insurance will cover it.
"Access is now one of the big issues for people living with AIDS around the world", said Asia Russell of ACT UP/Philadelphia. "It's not just treatments, but a whole range of matters such as information, education, advocacy, prevention, international aid, testing, and basic heatlh care."
More than 19 million people are infected with the HIV virus worldwide, but only a few million have access to AIDS drugs. In many countries, there are no effective AIDS medications and even the HIV test is too expansive for most people to afford. even inexpensive drugs to prevent AIDS-related pneumonia, a leading killer of people with HIV, are out of reach for most people. In other countries, even the HIV test is too expensive for many to afford.