by Workers International Vanguard League, South Africa
Health care is not only about medicines and facilities but is directly related to adequate housing; access to clean water; access to electricity; adequate nutrition, clothing and education. The government is not addressing even one aspect of health care. Against this background, the actions of the ANC govt in limiting medication to those who are HIV+ or who have Aids, amounts to complicity with the international druglords in genocide.
What is HIV?
HIV is a virus that attacks the body´s natural defence system that normally kills germs. Therefore someone who has the virus is more likely to get sick and a whole range of sicknesses can attack the body in a much more serious way than normal. A simple flu becomes much more difficult to handle and developing TB will become fatal very quickly. A person who has the HIV virus is said to be HIV+. This person can live for some years before the virus is so strong as to overwhelm the body´s natural defence system. When the defence system is overwhelmed, the person has Aids.
The capitalists are allowing the spread of HIV
Two World wars killed many millions of people as the imperialists battled one another in order to redivide the world among themselves for the sake of continued exploitation of the working class. With technology developing, there is an ever-increasing surplus (over-supply- to the capitalist that is) of labour. This poses a huge challenge to capitalist …‘stability´. The drug cartel is working hand in hand with other capitalists to allow HIV and Aids to spread throughout the neo-colonial world to not only weaken the working class, but with many millions dying of Aids, it is directly linked to the increase in their profits on a global scale. [There is less pressure from workers on the capitalist state for social responsibility issues e.g. providing housing, education, nutrition, health care etc; less is budgetted for the expense for the reproduction of labour]
Will the Medicine and Substance Control Act mean more affordable health care or adequate treatment for HIV+ or Aids patients? The answer is NO! This Act gives more power to the pharmaceutical companies and entrenches their control:
1. Cheaper drugs can only be imported or produced with the permission of the giant drug companies. [The drug companies own all the patents/rights to all the major drugs]
2. The only imports that are allowed are those that have originally been produced by the same big companies but from other countries, at a lower price (because they have to compete with cheaper drugs there). Even if the drug companies allows a generic (essentially a drug with the same ingredients and same effect but a different manufacturer) to be made or imported , then they still receive a royalty payment.
3. The Minister of Health appoints the Drug Council that determines all the rules on importing and pricing, subject to not challenging the so-called private property of the drug companies. People will be appointed who support privatisation and profit-making out of health.
4. The Pricing Committee has no powers to challenge the super profits of the drug companies.
So why did the Pharmaceutical companies challenge the Act?
The Act only slightly dents the profits of the drug companies and the 4 year delay of the Act has allowed them to maintain their profit levels longer, irrespective of the many thousands that had to die because of this!! So why did the druglords now give in? They gave in because their huge profit levels[over 400%] would have been exposed in public, because of declining profit levels in other sectors and the struggle internationally was starting to challenge the very …‘intellectual property rights´, the basis of their profits and their means of holding the health of the working class to ransom. Intellectual property rights in this case means, e.g. that if a certain company has the cure for Aids, or any other disease/ailment, then only they can make and distribute this drug. They determine what quantity is made. Worse still, if they decide not to produce it, then no-one else can do so, even if millions of people die! [This company can then sell freely all their old and less useful stock for an indefinite period, there is no compulsion to make the cure available- this exposes the true role of the World Trade Organisation that enforces such barbarism].
Considering that Aids and TB are such massive problems, it is instructive to note the bulk of research funds of the drug companies are going to ailments of the middle class and the rich in the imperialist countries [obesity, heart disease, etc]. The cartel of drug companies set their prices virtually at will. Price levels under capitalism-imperialism has nothing to do with supply and demand. Offers from these druglords of free supply of drugs is nothing but a price war against potential competitors, using their massive resources to hold out until the competition capitulates. These druglords control massive resources that are bigger than several countries GDP´s.
The drug cartel still sets their profit levels and the SA market remains the sole preserve of the druglords. Adequate health care remains unaffordable to the working class and fellow poor. More importantly, the fight against Aids and TB remain hostage to the dictates of the profit levels of the cartel. Considering that the rate of HIV infection has gone from 1% to over 11% of the population in the past 10 years, the deal has institutionalised mass destruction of the poor. Let us not be reduced to another Uganda where the Aids epidemic has reduced the average life expectancy to 35 years! 4 million people are HIV+ in SA today and unless drastic measures are taken, many millions will soon die of Aids. In this battle, the govt is on the side of the drug companies in withholding the necessary drugs for treatment for all HIV+ and Aids patients!
Despite the many well-meaning individuals in the TAC, Treatment Action Campaign, it has channelled the energies and rightful anger into a reformist partial response to the problem of Aids and HIV. They have not put forward the fundamental demand for free medical care for all who are HIV+ or who have Aids. For the TAC and the Cosatu leadership to hail the agreement of the govt with the monopolies as a victory has given respectability and legitimacy to the further wholesale destruction of massive sections of the working class. The role of Mbeki and the Secretary General of the UN in this deal merely confirms their subservience to the rule of capitalism-imperialism.
On the offer of cheap or free drugs by Anglo and SACOB [SA Chamber of Business]:
The capitalists employ the minimum number of workers for the maximum profit. The advances of technology has meant that they want to reduce more jobs any way. Thus for them a 3%, a 10% or even 15% HIV infection rate among employed workers was quite acceptable. It is only now that the HIV infection rate has reached 20% among some sectors of employed workers that their profit levels have been affected! Their main reasoning is that they are losing too many workers, too quickly! It must be remembered that the drug companies are part of SACOB and the ownership of the drug companies, medical Aid schemes and the monopolies like Anglo are inter-connected. Anglo´s offer to bring in cheaper generics from Cipla in India, was done with the approval of the drug companies and thus in a way that their profits are not threatened. The motivation for the opening of 170 centres for the Aids drugs for certain employed workers under SACOB, is due to high costs of hospitalisation, absenteeism and the high cost of training replacement workers. In other words, merely to prop up their profit levels and not for a permanent cure/treatment of workers nor out of concern for any of the sick and dying!
We demand the following:
1. The drug cartel should open their books and reveal their profit levels
2. There should be immediate free medical care for all who are HIV+ or who have Aids
3. The international drug cartel should be expropriated, placed under workers control and the resources available centralised on a world-wide scale and utilised to develop a cure/vaccine for TB, malaria and Aids. Profiteering on health care should be abolished.
4. TRIPS or intellectual property rights should be abolished and all patents made freely available for the development of humanity as a whole.
5. A planned world economy based on the needs of the working class and fellow poor!
The spread of Aids while there are sufficient drugs available for the treatment of HIV [although no cure exists yet] is a reflection of the barbarism of capitalism. There will be no solution to humanity´s problems under capitalism. The priority remains the building of a revolutionary working class party as part of the rebuilding of the Fourth International! Forward to Socialism!
Workers International Vanguard League