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Vatican accuses drug companies of genocide

Edwin J. Bernard, Friday, January 30, 2004
Source: aidsmap.com

The Vatican has become embroiled in the battle to reduce the cost of anti-HIV medications, after a Vatican spokesman yesterday accused drug companies of “genocide” by refusing to lower their antiretroviral prices in Africa.

"Genocidal Action"

Speaking at the Vatican during a press conference following the Pope’s message to Catholics at Lent, the founder and medical director of a Nairobi orphanage for HIV-positive children enunciated the strongest condemnation of AIDS profiteering ever heard from the Catholic Church.

"Today, at least 400 people die in Kenya every day because of AIDS. Yet in Europe and North America it is no longer a fatal disease, it is only a chronic disease," said American Jesuit priest, Father Angelo D'Agostino, of the Nyumbani Institute in Nairobi.

"Why the difference? It is the genocidal action of the drug cartels who refuse to make the drugs affordable in Africa even after they reported a US$517 billion profit in 2002."

"This is a moral issue which shows the lack of social conscience by these capitalistic enterprises, which could easily save the lives of the 25 million sub-Saharan Africans who are HIV-positive and otherwise doomed,” he argued, calling for public pressure to force the drug companies to lower the cost of antiretrovirals.

Father D’Agostino added that he sees seven or eight children with HIV die every month "because we do not have the funds to pay the unaffordable prices demanded by the big international drug companies."

"Appalling Tragedy"

Pope John Paul said in his Lent message that "humanity cannot close its eyes in the face of so appalling a tragedy," referring to how AIDS is affecting children in Africa. He did not use the words ‘HIV’ or ‘AIDS’ in the message, however, and the rest of the text was about the suffering of children in general: something that is, obviously, universally abhorred.

Following the address, however, Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum - the Vatican's co-ordinating agency for Catholic charitable agencies - announced that the Vatican will become directly involved in the battle for low-cost antiretrovirals.

"The suffering of children who are dying because they have no medicines could be avoided,” he said, adding that “the Holy See has undertaken initiatives to exert pressure on large pharmaceutical industries in order to lower prices.”

Stamping out AIDS?

The “initiatives” announced yesterday don’t quite measure up to the major WHO or Clinton Foundation ventures announced at the end of last year, however, to which the Vatican made no reference. These major initiatives have found a way to bring antiretrovirals to resource-poor countries by striking deals with some of the major drug companies to allow generic manufacturers to offer HAART for approximately US$140 a year.

For its part, the Vatican will be issuing a 45 cent stamp in May featuring pictures of an African child and baby and the legend: ‘Children, Victims of AIDS.’ Profits will be donated to Father D'Agostino’s project in Kenya. The Vatican will also set up a special bank account for Italians to donate to the project, which currently cares for 93 HIV-positive abandoned children, providing medical care and schooling in a residential environment.

With the money raised, Father D'Agostino is hoping to expand the project into a cluster of homes that will care for 1,000 people, including "AIDS orphans" and 250 people "from another needy and forgotten group, the elderly." The land has been donated by the Kenyan government, and funding is being provided mainly by American philanthropist John Noel.

Archbishop Cordes admitted that the stamps - which he hoped would raise up to 500,000 euros - wouldn’t make much of a dent in the scheme of things, but "it is a sign that beyond all the words, the church does do work in the field and works effectively."

Condoms unacceptable

Although individuals within the Catholic Church appear to be doing all they can for HIV and AIDS, yesterday's announcements convey a mixed message given the Vatican’s stand against the use of condoms in HIV prevention, which some critics have suggested may also be a form of genocide.

In effect, the Vatican continues to support chastity as the main way to avoid HIV infection, and has gone as far as saying that HIV can pass through condoms.

During the press conference, when Father D'Agostini was asked about the Vatican’s anti-condom stance, he replied, "Culturally, condoms are not accepted by most African tribes."

However, according to the Daily Telegraph, Cardinal Godfried Daneels of Belgium told Dutch television earlier this month that condom use could be condoned to avoid breaking one of the Ten Commandments.

"When someone is HIV-infected and his partner says he wants to have sexual relations with him, I would say do not do it.

"But if he does it all the same, he should use a condom. Otherwise he adds a sin against the fifth commandment, 'Thou shalt not kill,' to a sin against the sixth, 'Thou shalt not commit adultery.' "

The Telegraph adds that the liberal Cardinal Daneels has been suggested as a possible candidate to be the next Pope.

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