BARCELONA – Human rights campaigner Irene Fernandez sent out a battle cry at the 14th International AIDS conference calling on the world to see health as a right not a commodity.
Presently under criminal indictment in Malaysia and needing special permission to leave her country, Fernandez has worked for 30 years fighting for the rights of migrant workers.
‘We see growing inequalities and that the world is now divided into two different worlds. One world is rich, powerful and united where less than one third of people live. In this world, last year 500 000 people were on anti-retroviral drugs and 25 000 died of AIDS. In this world, there are resources and access to treatment.
‘The other world, where more than two thirds of the people live, is poor, in debt, divided, controlled and in despair. In African alone 2,2-m died.’
Only 30 000 people out of almost 30-million now living with AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa are being given anti-retroviral drugs.
‘This disparity is not alarming, it is criminal,’ said Fernandez.
She pointed out that everyone was aware how the ‘wonder drug’ nevirapine will reduce mother to child infection. ‘Yet, this drug is not within the reach of mothers.
‘Instead we find mothers huddled in corners, hoping against hope that someone will care for their children. It is not the lack of knowledge (in Africa) that is the bottle-neck. It is lack of resources. Drugs are beyond the capacity of Africans where people live on less than one dollar a day. But if there were resources then millions of lives would be saved.’
Fernandez criticized the New Partnership for African Development: ‘It makes development a pipedream. In fact NEPAD hardly mentions AIDS.’
Fernandez said that she did not doubt that there was formidable political will at global level. She said this was made clear by reactions to September 11.
‘Scores of billions of dollars were mobilized overnight to avenge the horrendous deaths of three thousand people and the war on terrorism continues with even greater zeal. Tell me why, tell me why so much value was given to those three thousand lives while (there is) so little thought and political will for the millions dying of AIDS? Why is the war against terrorism so sacrosanct, but the war against AIDS meek and weak?’
She said the key to real change against the war on AIDS was a paradigm shift with health seen and recognized as a fundamental right and not as a commodity to be traded for profit.
In closing Fernandez called on the more than 14 000 delegates to attach similar value to a life from New York or from Mozambique or from India. ‘It must be protected at all cost and given the highest value.’