By Kyla Herrmannsen
Aids has become big business. The notion of profiting from the disease is controversial, but plausible. Aids generates billions of rands ofrevenue every year and it is fast becoming feasible for individuals to benefit financially from this.
Aids is undoubtedly a pandemic. One could never minimise the significance of a virus that has become an international crisis of titanic proportions. The Global Health Council estimates that Aids is responsible for killing over 40 million people in 2005 alone. The ferocity of the virus cannot not be denied, however the question of its broader implications is complicated.
Advocate Anthony Brink, a notorious Aids dissident, says, “Hundreds of the highest-ranking scientists believe that Aids is a medical construct” and is simply “money-spinning political kitsch”. Larissa Klazinga, secretary of the Treatment Action Compaign (TAC) at Rhodes, said “Brink is a fool: he’s talking rubbish” and should not be able to make money off spreading misinformation and perceiving himself as an Aids guru.
Brink not only denies that the disease exists but is adamant that ARVs are dangerous and toxic. The government employs a controversial approach to the Aids epidemic and Brink credits himself with singlehandedly shaping Thabo Mbeki’s stance on Aids.
The relationship between a certain German doctor and the minister of health is a potent example of the state’s role in promoting the business of the virus. Dr Matthias Rath claimed to have discovered a cure for Aids in the form of special multivitamins. He then illegally sold these vitamins to locals who were under the impression that they would be cured.
“Rath is killing people and must be stopped,“ said Klazinga, but one must also question the government’s compliance with those that benefit from the disease. Though Rath set up the Rath Foundation and claims he is not making a profit off the vitamins, he appears to be making money off spreading false claims and has proved that there is money to be made in Aids. “It is time for Manto to retire gracefully from public life,” said Klazinga. Even the health minister manages to generate an income off her inability to deal with Aids, and it seems many others may have seen the profitability of the pandemic. In such a climate one cannot blame the pharmaceutical industry for also trying to make a profit. It is inevitably more profitable for drug companies to continue selling drugs to help people cope with the virus than spend money finding a cure. SHARC notes, “There is more money pumped into viagra and anti-ageing research than Aids.”
Money is donated in large quantities to NGOs responsible for dealing with those infected and affected by HIV/Aids. According to its website, LoveLife, the NGO that created those mind-boggling billboards, had a budget of R200 million in 2005. If the disease were to miraculously disappear, those people (and there are a few) who misuse money allocated to NGOs for Aids prevention and treatment would also see their money disappear. The disease’s continued existence is in the interest of some overfunded and powerful actors. It is clear that Aids has become a global money making enterprise. HIV/Aids is now big business. We can only hope that profiteers will put their gluttonous and affluent aspirations on hold long enough to realise that Aids is “big business” in a different sense as it is an epidemic that needs to be effectively eradicated.