‘Marshall Plan’ for AIDS in Africa Not Feasible, Washington Post Columnist Says
"Jesse Jackson is frustrated" by high drug prices, South African President Thabo Mbeki's refusal to declare AIDS a national emergency, tariffs imposed on donated drug shipments and a lack of infrastructure in sub-Saharan Africa, William Raspberry writes in his Washington Post column. Raspberry writes that Jackson said that the drug pricing debate pits the "good guys [who] support generic drugs" against the "bad guys [who] support brand names to protect patents," an argument that, according to Jackson, is "too simplistic." Raspberry continues to quote Jackson: "Mbeki clearly has the power to declare [a national] emergency. If he does, the contest over the patent rights is suspended ... [b]ut he's worried if he does that, it might send the wrong signal to foreign investors. ... Shouldn't saving lives be a higher priority than trade and investment?" Raspberry notes that Jackson is "pleased" by the drug discounts recently offered by several major pharmaceutical companies, but is frustrated by tariffs imposed on deliveries of free medicine. If South Africa was truly "serious" about the war on AIDS, it would drop the tariffs, Jackson said, according to Raspberry. Raspberry adds that "[i]t isn't clear" how the tariffs affect shipments of free medicines to South Africa, but that "[m]any poorer" countries say that the tariffs and value-added taxes are necessary to improve their health infrastructures. In addition, Jackson said that an international initiative, like the post-World War II reconstruction Marshall Plan in Europe, to help affected nations build the necessary infrastructure should not "get lost in the patent debate," according to Raspberry. Raspberry writes that Jackson is "right, or close to it, on virtually every count," but states that problems exist with "the way he makes his argument." He continues, "[S]preading the responsibility ... is as likely to reduce as intensify the pressure on those most able to address the crisis": drug companies and governments. "Even if he's right about the lack of infrastructure in much of Africa, that's hardly an argument for not doing what can be done in places that are accessible," Raspberry writes, adding, "Besides, arguing for building an infrastructure as a necessary element in the AIDS war transforms it from an emergency situation to a longer-term problem." By "insist[ing] that everything be done -- building roads, training doctors, improving food and water supplies and ... changing patterns of sexual behavior" -- Jackson is more likely to be confronted with "shrugs of resignation than [with] the concerted action he envisions," Raspberry concludes (Raspberry, Washington Post, 3/26).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.