It is common knowledge that Africa has borne the brunt of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. However, debate continues in many circles about whether multinational drug companies and their executives made decisions that hurt global efforts to fight the disease at its peak. Did the big pharma companies put profits over people in their early response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic?
In a new book, Genocide by Denial published by Fountain Publishers, Professor Peter Megyenyi, one of Africa’s most eminent HIV/AIDS research fellows makes a profound case for what otherwise would have ended a rumour. Having been at the epicenter of the crisis in Uganda where superstition and fear were rife about the disease, there was enough motivation for him to fully research the disease. And in this moving narrative of history, he argues that racism, money and ignorance informed the horror that Africa suffered. The big Pharma and the rich international community deliberately denied Africa the life saving drugs having discovered them in the early 1990s.
While the whirlwind of Aids swept through Africa like a bush fire and many African countries became funeral republics lowering thousands of their productive youth into the ground, the big Pharma and seemingly savvy researchers convinced themselves that Africans could not be trusted to maintain and administer the drug.
In one ignorant diatribe, an American researcher while in a conference in Vancouver underscored Africans’ inability to administer the drug which required great precision of time.
“The Africans have no watches, and most of them use the sun to estimate the time, I shudder to think of what will happen on a rainy day,” he argued.
Even when the drugs eventually became available in Africa, they were so expensive that even the highest paid medical personnel or graduate civil servant couldn’t afford them. They went at $450 a dose! And sadder still, some western researchers, instead of dealing with the real issues of the time, chose to engage in bogus debates such as where the disease must have come from claiming that Africa carried the plague to America .
It’s a story of intrigue and betrayal. Africans that had the opportunity to travel to the UK where the drugs were accessible, were challenged with deportation. Mugenyi spares neither the Westerners nor the Africans from blame as he recalls the countless hours he spent answering concerns from lawyers who struggled to save the Africans in the UK.
In South Africa’s case, Mugenyi paints an even more tragic picture. With over 500 people dying everyday, the country attempted to break the patent laws that guaranteed the big Pharma monopoly and introduce affordable generic copies of the drugs. The pharmaceuticals sued the government and the project was put off.
Scarier stories strew the pages of this book. But despite its grim content, Genocide by Denial is told lightheartedly and written in very good prose.
Tales of sufferers consuming soil for its assumed curative properties may sound distant today, as do stories about medical opportunists who treated patients with steroids. At its peak, HIV/AIDS resulted in a death toll in the early 80s and 90s that left thousands of orphans. It propagated horrendous stigma …where infection was equated to immorality.
Mugyenyi renders these stories in a manner that is not offensive and not accusatory — providing a peek into how far the world has come since the outbreak of HIV/AIDS.