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It's all well and good providing drugs for people who need them, but it becomes a lot more difficult if they choose to ignore the warnings
Just after Christmas, I read a report in a newspaper describing how it is easier to contract HIV in the villages surrounding Zambia's Lake Mweru than it is to catch fish in the water — and that's not through a lack of aquatic life. An awful statistic, but one that didn't really surprise me — after all, most of us are fully aware of the HIV problems in Africa.
What is alarming, however, is that while much is made of drug companies and their seeming reluctance to provide free/cheap/generic products to help stem the rise in the number of people affected, they, and organizations such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), face an uphill struggle to get to what is arguably the heart of the matter — education. It's all well and good providing drugs for people who need them, but it becomes a lot more difficult if that group of people continually gets bigger and bigger. Whose fault is it if people choose to ignore the warnings about the effects of HIV, or are ignorant of the problem in the first place? Drug manufacturers cannot be blamed for the failure of humans to understand or believe the risks involved in their behaviour.
While we applaud the work of MSF and the World Health Organization, and no doubt the stance of drug companies is slowly changing, we have to look at how the wider issues could be addressed. It's all very well blaming drug companies; after all, they are an easy target because they have the potential solutions. But it needs drugs combined with properly implemented educational initiatives to fully raise awareness in the world's poorest continent.
And that's an area where drug manufacturers could help — assisting governments of the poorest countries to set up community programmes. In a way, you almost feel that its the governments themselves that need educating. Not only would this help their populations to better understand the wider issues, it would also go some way in demonstrating that drug manufacturers are taking HIV in poor countries seriously and that they are able to look beyond the profits. It's not just about fancy websites — no good for a population that can barely feed itself. It's about providing the right infrastructure for people to prevent and/or deal with HIV. But, it's not something the pharmaceutical industry can do by itself, and hence the blame cannot lie solely at its feet.