MARCH AND RALLY JUNE 23, 2001 @ 11
Washington Square Park, New York City

Before world leaders discuss HIV/AIDS at the United Nations and before the G7 Summit in Genoa, Italy,

Today, the fight against global AIDS is entering a critical phase as policy makers are under increasing pressure to respond to the crisis. The aim of this peaceful, non-violent, and legal march and rally is to challenge policy makers to take meaningful action, now. We will issue a powerful call to conscience to all observers and the world community, specifically calling on the US government to exercise political leadership and to commit resources toward battling this crisis.

With over 30 million people facing death from untreated HIV/AIDS, the richest countries must increase direct grant aid and implement complete debt cancellation for impoverished countries within the context of coordinated national HIV/AIDS control programs.

The timing is critical: This powerful expression of popular will occurs just days before the unprecedented U.N. General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS, and will send a strong message to the following month's G8 Summit (in Genoa, Italy) where AIDS and debt issues will be major topics of discussion. In addition, the march takes place during New York City's Gay Pride Week, adding even more voices to an already enormous grass-roots effort.

The timing is momentous: 20 years ago, in June 1981, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) published the first reported case of AIDS. Since then, over 50 million people around the world have been infected and HIV transmission continues to increase exponentially in many economically disadvantaged countries.

We honor the people who have lost their lives or their loved ones due to HIV/AIDS during the past 20 years of this epidemic. We join in struggle with those that are still fighting.

What we know to be morally correct -- that the lives of millions of poor people with AIDS are no less expendable than the lives of those with AIDS who live in wealthy countries, and that access to treatment is a human right -- is also a pragmatic possibility to bring medication to those in need.

We heed the demand of people living with HIV/AIDS in the Global South for access to treatment, care, and support; treatment that extends lives of people with AIDS has been shown to help build health care infrastructure, and is proven to be inextricably linked to prevention.

We heed the demand of people from the South who are calling for complete debt cancellation as the burden of debt payments to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank prevent the ability of countries to save lives and educate children.

photographs by Eric Odell

JUNE 23, 2001, Marching from Washington Square Park to Bryant Park, NYC

The rally at Bryant Park was hosted by a number of speakers including people living with HIV and activists from grass-roots movements from South Africa, Thailand, Uganda, Brazil, Kenya, and Ghana demanding action to STOP GLOBAL AIDS NOW.

The march and rally demanded three specific sets of policy responses to the AIDS crisis:

The DEMAND on the United States Government and economically-advantaged Group of Seven (G7) Governments to invest multibillions in grants to the Global AIDS Fund and to national AIDS plans and social infrastructure development projects in developing countries and international agency initiatives in the fight against global AIDS.

The DEMAND on United States Government and the Group of Seven (G7) Governments to use their influence and voting power to call on the IMF and the World Bank to use their own resources to implement full cancellation of debts owed to them by all impoverished countries heavily impacted by HIV/AIDS.

The DEMAND on governments of the United States and G7 countries to invest sufficient resources and uphold the rights of sovereign nations to rapidly ensure access to lifesaving medications, including generically manufactured drugs, at the lowest cost. Call for leaders of nations to exercise political will in implementing strategies and mechanisms to ensure access.

June 13, 2001
Dear activists,

For the past two years, ACT UP Philadelphia has belonged to the Health GAP Coalition, fighting to stop the U.S. government and big drug companies from blocking access to medicine in the Global South, home to 90% of people with HIV on our planet.

We have brought thousands of people to the streets, locked down in trade officials' offices, disrupted Congress and participated in international mobilizations.

We have explained the truth about AIDS medications -- that you do not need to take it every 2 hours, it is not 30 pills a day, and that people have a right to decide if they will risk side effect to combat a life-threatening virus -- in the face of relentless misinformation from drug company lobbyists. We have made obscure-sounding trade policy understandable and compelling to AIDS activists, and brought AIDS issues to the forefront of anti-globalization struggles.

But it has not been enough.

Maybe we are destined to win-- the truth is compelling: that drugs are cheap to make, that lifesaving treatment are the key to reigning in the escalating epidemic, and that we can no longer deny treatment to millions in need.

But right now, I must tell you that this is not the case. We are facing a major backlash, because we have struck at the core of injustice and greed. We may lose this fight. We need reinforcements.

In the past few weeks, Peter Piot, the head of the UN agency on AIDS; several high level World Health Organization staffers; and now Andrew Natsios, the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have all stepped forward to disparage the effort to get AIDS drugs into developing nations. Meanwhile, more than 35 million real people are dying of AIDS; 95% live in developing nations.

On Friday, Bush-appointee Natsios stated in a Congressional hearing that that Africans will never be able to deal with AIDS drugs because they can't tell time. < see the News editorials reprinted below >

Health GAP has called for his resignation.

The life expectancy for a person in sub-Saharan Africa with HIV is between 6-8 years. More than 1 million people are dying every three months without treatment. It is a holocaust and it is happening partly because of the racism of US government officials.

U.S. officials prefer to put all monies into prevention programs -- programs increasingly and impractically stressing abstinence and fidelity to a planet in which millions of women are infected by their husbands -- and write off people who are already infected. This is what they have done for years and what they know how to do. We need more money for truly effective prevention programs, but we can no longer allow our governments to deny treatment to millions of people with AIDS.

On June 23, we are going to draw the line.

Join us and a broad coalition of activists in New York City from around the world on Saturday, June 23, for the rally and march that demands:

donate the dollars
drop the debt
treat the people.

This march will combat the poisonous rhetoric of the Bush Administration, and the life-threatening timidity of international officials cowed by drug companies and the U.S. Government.

We need to show the world that thousands of us in the United States have an unfailing commitment to people with AIDS around this world -- that they have a right to live and thrive, that their lives come before profits, and that our overtly racist government does not represent us.

Let me be clear -- Our biggest need is to get people to come to this march -- not to say they will, not to pass around an email, but to make sure that a lot of people really show up.

We need to stand together to fight this backlash.

Please organize your direct action group, your policy group, your summer session, your church, family, your support group and your group house.

Below is an editorial in the Boston Globe about Natsios's comments:

Natsios called racist; firing sought

By John Donnelly, Globe Staff, 6/9/2001

WASHINGTON - Three advocacy groups yesterday called on Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to fire Andrew Natsios, US administrator for foreign aid, for his comments on Africa that they called ''shockingly racist.''

Twice this week, Natsios, a former Massachusetts official who only a month ago started his job as head of US Agency for International development, said administering AIDS treatment in Africa would be extremely difficult because of a paucity of health infrastructure and because most Africans don't have clocks or watches and thus could not take medication at specific times.

He made the comments in an interview with the Globe and before the House International Relations Committee on Thursday.

In many parts of Africa, ''people do not know what watches or clocks are,'' he said before the committee. ''They do not use Western means to tell time. They use the sun. These drugs have to be administered in certain sequences, at certain times during the day. You say, take it at 10 o'clock, they say, what do you mean, 10 o'clock?''

Some people in the packed hearing room gasped.

According to an agency spokeswoman last night, Natsios feels that he ''said what he has to say, that he said what he needed to say in testimony.''

The groups demanding his dismissal were Africa Action, the oldest US advocacy group for Africa; Religious Action Network, a group of about 300 churches; and Health Gap Coalition, which works on HIV/AIDS issues globally.

Global health specialists, including two USAID officials speaking on condition of anonymity, pointed out that in several ongoing AIDS drug trials, African physicians are successfully distributing pills twice a day, in the morning and at night; in the United States, some new drug regimens have been simplified to a single pill containing three anti-HIV drugs.

''Some of Mr. Natsios' comments are just wrong. He should be corrected,'' said Dr. Paul Farmer, a Harvard infectious disease specialist who has for more than two years supervised the use of AIDS drugs in rural Haiti, in which patients take medication twice a day. A State Department official said last night there was no reaction yet to the letter from the organizations to Powell, who oversees the US Agency for International Development. A USAID spokeswoman also said her office had no immediate reaction.

The letter from the three groups also objected to Natsios' stance against paying for treatment in Africa, where 25 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS.

Natsios stressed that prevention should be the main focus in fighting AIDS, but he backed the distribution of a drug that blocks transmission from mother to child, as well as drugs fighting secondary infections from malaria and tuberculosis.

''For us, the main problem is the policies, because they are dangerous to the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS in Africa,'' said Salih Booker, executive director of Africa Action. ''But it's the racism that leads to dangerous policies.''

Representative Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, also strongly objected to Natsios' comments, saying in an interview the comment on clocks ''was outrageous.''

She also found fault with his hesitation to begin treatment programs because of the lack of health infrastructure in Africa. ''You don't deny treatment because there's no infrastructure by US standards,'' she said. ''I'm not saying there's a great infrastructure in Africa, but we need to develop the roads and the clinics, and at the same time utilize traditional African ways of disseminating information and disseminating condoms.''

Inside USAID, several officials said yesterday they were concerned that the furor over Natsios' comments would hurt their efforts, which account for the single largest international block of funds against AIDS in Africa.

''His comments threw us for a loop,'' said one USAID official, speaking on condition of anonymity. ''You can't do prevention without adding treatment in there.''


Below is an editorial in the New York Times about Natsios's comments:

June 11, 2001

Refusing to Save Africans

Giving the back of his hand to the suffering of millions, a key Bush administration official is opposing any extensive use of the life-extending anti-AIDS drugs in Africa, insisting that the health care infrastructure is too primitive and that Africans, in most cases, are incapable of following the regimen.

As head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Andrew Natsios is the administration's point man on foreign aid. In an interview with The Boston Globe, he said the money raised by a new global fund to fight AIDS should be used almost entirely for prevention services, not for the antiretroviral drugs that have been so successful in extending the lives of people infected with H.I.V.

Painting with a very broad brush, Mr. Natsios said attempting to get the drugs to Africans any time soon would not be worth the effort because of the difficulties posed by a lack of roads, shortages of doctors and hospitals, wars and other problems.

According to Mr. Natsios, the problems extend to the Africans themselves. Many Africans, he told The Globe, "don't know what Western time is. You have to take these (AIDS) drugs a certain number of hours each day, or they don't work. Many people in Africa have never seen a clock or a watch their entire lives. And if you say, one o'clock in the afternoon, they do not know what you are talking about. They know morning, they know noon, they know evening, they know the darkness at night."

This view of Africans as so ignorant they can't master the concept of taking their medicine on time has become a touchstone of the Bush administration. Back in April, The Times's Joseph Kahn reported on concerns voiced by an unnamed senior Treasury Department official: "He said Africans lacked a requisite `concept of time,' implying that they would not benefit from drugs that must be administered on tight time schedules."

Africans may be dying by the millions from AIDS, but the brutal stereotyping of the Dark Continent lives on, encouraged by U.S. government officials who should know better.

Mr. Natsios's primary response to the epidemic that is roaring like a fireball across southern Africa is to just say no. "Just keep talking about prevention," he told The Globe. "That is the strategy we're using " even though I'll be beaten up and get bruises all over me from the fights on the subject."

Mr. Natsios may not realize it, but just talking about prevention has failed. In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 25 million people are infected with H.I.V., and more than 17 million have already died. In South Africa, which is being brought to its knees by this epidemic, the rate of infection for all people 15 to 45 years old has nearly reached 20 percent.

The United States, a rich and healthy nation, cannot close its eyes to suffering on such a colossal scale. There is medication available to ease the suffering and its cost is coming down. Now the steps must be taken to get the medicine to the people in need.

I spoke with Mr. Natsios last Thursday. He conceded that in South Africa and the country with the worst outbreak of AIDS in the world, Botswana, the health care infrastructure is, in fact, pretty good.

As for the difficulty Africans or anyone else might have following the daily antiretroviral regimen, now might be a good time to burst a widely held misconception. Antiretroviral therapy does not always require patients to take dozens of pills a day.

"Our patients take two pills in the morning and two pills in the evening. That's it," said Toby Kasper, an official with Doctors Without Borders, which recently established an antiretroviral therapy program for patients in a village in South Africa.

The trend in drug therapies " in the U.S. and elsewhere " is toward newer, more consolidated regimens that are easier to follow. Mr. Natsios reluctantly acknowledged that some limited use of antiretroviral treatment in Africa may be O.K., and he said he didn't mean to offend anyone with his comments about African concepts of time.

The truth is that both prevention and drug therapy are desperately needed in Africa.

No one believes antiretrovirals can be effectively administered in countries that are at war, or in areas devoid of doctors and hospitals or clinics. But there is a role for antiretroviral therapy to play in the catastrophe in sub-Saharan Africa.

And it would be to the everlasting shame of the United States if its officials proved to be a barrier to that kind of life-saving treatment.



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