Protestors Demanding Increased Antiretroviral Drug Access ‘Disrupt’ Events During XV International AIDS Conference
Protestors demanding increased antiretroviral drug access on Tuesday "disrupted" several events during the XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, Agence France-Presse reports. Approximately 30 AIDS advocates "stormed" the main debating arena at the conference while Pfizer CEO Hank McKinnell was preparing to speak, according to Agence France-Presse. The demonstrators carried banners saying, "Patient rights, not patent rights" and chanted "Free the people, break the patents." Some AIDS advocates have criticized developed countries for not giving sufficient funding to fighting HIV/AIDS and have blamed some pharmaceutical companies for the high price of antiretrovirals, according to Agence France-Presse. Members of the French AIDS advocacy group ACT UP-Paris on Tuesday "jeered" French Minister for Development and Cooperation Xavier Darcos as he was preparing to deliver a speech on behalf of French President Jacques Chirac, according to Agence France-Presse. The protestors chanted, "10,000 deaths [from AIDS-related causes] per day, Darcos wants more." In his speech on behalf of Chirac, Darcos said that France would like to see $3 billion annually from Europe, the United States and other donors to the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, according to Agence France-Presse (Agence France-Presse, 7/13). Some AIDS advocates also said that the conference's Global Village community, an area set aside for community gatherings and activities, was an "insincer[e]" effort by conference organizers to recognize HIV-positive people because it was "completely ignored" by the world leaders and celebrities attending the conference, according to Thailand's Nation. Paison Suwannawong, chair of the Thai Treatment Action Group, said, "How could the organizers say we come here to learn from one another when those big names didn't even bother to show up where we are," adding, "Didn't they say they want to learn from people really living with the disease?" Princess Zulu, an AIDS advocate from Zambia, said, "You just invited us to be tokens to make your conference look good," adding, "If you want to fight AIDS, you have to listen to us because the virus is in our veins" (Nantiya, Nation, 7/13).
Five Pharmaceutical Companies Close Booths During Protest
Five pharmaceutical companies -- GlaxoSmithKline, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck, Abbott Laboratories and Roche -- closed their booths on the conference's exhibition floor when a group of protestors arrived to ask the companies to sign a "Treatment Access Pledge" that would commit the companies to "stand down" from patent enforcement in developing countries, according to an AIDS Healthcare Foundation release. Two pharmaceutical companies -- Gilead and Boehringer Ingelheim -- kept their booths open and addressed the protestors, according to the release. The protestors who presented the pledge included AIDS advocates from South Africa, the United States, Thailand and Uganda. Michael Weinstein, AHF president, said, "We want to acknowledge and thank both Boehringer Ingelheim and Gilead for being willing to hear our concerns and engage in discussion," adding, "Some are in agreement with our position on patent enforcement in the developing world, particularly a company like Gilead, which doesn't even register drug patents in many resource-poor countries" (AHF release, 7/13).
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Tuesday reported on the protests about drug prices and the lack of HIV/AIDS funding. The audio report includes an interview with McKinnell (Lloyd, ABC, 7/13). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer and online in Windows Media.