Times of India Interviews HIV/AIDS Congressional Task Force Chair Rep. Jim McDermott
The Times of India's Rahul Sagar recently interviewed Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Task Force on HIV/AIDS and frequent visitor to India, to discuss foreign policy issues and the AIDS epidemic in India. Asked how "satisfied" he has been with the "Indian response to the AIDS problem," McDermott said that most developing countries have been "overrun" with the problem of AIDS "because of the speed with which it has spread and the immediacy of other concerns such as droughts." McDermott added, "Consequently, it has been hard for them to do long term planning with any kind of intensity or perseverance. They've started out with lots of programs only to be overwhelmed by other issues. I wish it were different in India but I think that India is going to pay a terrible price in the next 10 years." Sagar asked whether McDermott thought "precautionary measures, such as changing behavior patterns," could "quickly and effectively contai[n]" the AIDS epidemic in Africa, to which McDermott responded, "It cannot be done quickly. ... I think that until we have a vaccine, the only way to control the problem is through education that seeks to change behavior." McDermott said this strategy is "not easy" because "you are trying to get people to change their most private behavior. So it has to be done in ways that the ordinary person understands and accepts." McDermott explained, "For example, I have been talking to African leaders and asking them to use their traditional healers, school teachers and clinic nurses -- individuals who are trusted by the ordinary person -- to spread a clear and understandable message. Massive publicity will not have any significant effect unless it is done in the language that people actually talk about sex and communicate about this issue. In India, this means using vernacular languages. Failing this you will not get people to pay attention and it becomes 'somebody else's'" disease.
Generic Drugs Not a 'Panacea'
Sagar also broached the issue of generic AIDS drugs, asking McDermott, "What is your reaction to Cipla's plans to offer the AIDS cocktail medication for under $1 per day in Africa, while western drug companies can only offer the drug at $40,000 per year?" McDermott said he had "concerns" because the "cocktail of antiretroviral drugs is not an easy course of treatment -- it's not curative, it has side effects and sometimes does not work." He added, "Also, being a physician myself I worry whether the incorrect use of the medication will result in more virulent strains as with drug-resistant tuberculosis." McDermott said that cheaper generic drugs "cannot be the panacea for all of Africa's problems," noting that there is "a certain public 'grasping' for anything that might improve the situation. ... [I]f we only set our sights on the idea of getting the cocktail out to everyone we would not solve the problem because people are continually being infected" (Sagar, Times of India, 5/1).