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AIDS: How the US government works on behalf of
pharmaceutical profits before people

The lack of focus on the U.S. government’s partnership with multinational corporations by the mainstream media is a crime against humanity.

For example, consider the story of how the Clinton administration has threatened to take South Africa to the World Trade Organization (WTO) because Nelson Mandela got a law passed that allowed South African companies to issue compulsory licenses for pharmaceuticals that combat AIDS.

The U.S. has demanded that AIDS sufferers in South African purchase didanosine (DDL), a drug used in triple therapies, from U.S.-based Bristol-Myers Squibb, at prices few there can afford.

This is to protect Bristol-Myers Squibb’s profit margins. Bristol-Myers Squibb has already been granted exclusive license to sell DDL despite the fact that it was the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that actually did the research, testing and patented the drug (Someshwar Singh, Third World Network Features, Penang, Malaysia, 11/99. Reprinted by World Press Review, 2/00).

Compulsory licensing would allow for South African firms to develop DDL and sell it at affordable prices in a country where some U.N. officials estimate 50% of all children are born HIV-positive. This form of bending the patent rules is done wherever convenient here.

Needless to say, this not a story that our government’s two most consistent allies in the Free Press (i.e., the New York Times and Washington Post) have been blaring across their front pages.

Consider also that Al Gore has been the point man in the Clinton administration’s efforts on behalf of Bristol-Myers Squibb. The Washington Post has noted a couple of times without comment that Gore has recently been promoting himself in stump speeches for his presidential campaign as the candidate who would best stand up to our pharmaceutical companies. Here again is the government’s newspaper deciding not to raise the first serious issue in a presidential campaign.

Similar outrages abound. When one examines how limited the permissible range of expression is regarding news stories covered by the mainstream media, the only conclusion possible is that it would be just like what you see under dictatorships--if those societies had anything as sophisticated and relentless as what’s here.

Many in this country refuse to think about it; others won’t even look. As malignant as the mainstream press is now, we should remember the future doesn’t have to be so grim. There are many possibilities. The recent triumph of activists in Seattle who disrupted a meeting of the WTO shows us that ordinary people can effectively fight unregulated global capitalism, the media, multinationals and the U.S. government all at once.

Still, the most pressing problem facing our society is our media. Nothing can be fixed unless people hear the news in a manner that enables them to mobilize a progressive response to it.

Scott Loughrey

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