D-Day for drug companies



MELBOURNE — Ten years after the original "D-Day" for action on the HIV/AIDS crisis, activists in the group QUEER have called a D-Day of their own for June 6.

The group, whose acronym stands for Queers United to Eradicate Economic Rationalism, is calling for drug companies to remove their patents from HIV/AIDS treatment drugs to allow cheap, generic production and universal access.

It says that poor countries should be allowed to rebuild their public health systems by cancelling their debts and ending International Monetary Fund structural adjustment programs.

Locally, QUEER is also demanding increased welfare benefits, to reduce the dependence of people living with HIV/AIDS on charity, and universal access to safe sex and safe injecting equipment.

The original D-Day was a day of protest on June 6, 1991, organised by ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, which highlighted the issues of drugs, delays, deaths and deadlines (hence the "D" in "D-Day").

The deadline was on Brian Howe, the then health minister, to respond to ACT UP demands for improved drug access for people with HIV and AIDS.

The activists behind this year's D-Day have incorporated a heavy focus on HIV/AIDS issues in the Third World, arguing that, in the past decade, the problem of HIV infections in the underdeveloped world has turned from a serious problem into a pandemic.

According to statistics from the UN's AIDS agency, 95% of the global population living with HIV/AIDS live in the Third World.

QUEER puts a large amount of the blame for this crisis on the giant drug companies, whose annual profits of $318 billion are greater than the combined gross domestic product of all southern Africa, the region worst affected by HIV/AIDS.

The pharmaceutical companies have sought to ban Third World governments, including those in South Africa and Brazil, from producing cheap, generic versions of the drugs they hold the patents on. A generic course of drugs in Brazil costs only US$78 a month, while drug companies' versions cost US$1000 a month in North America.

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