By Gerry Bates
When we read about some terrible thing in the past, we ask ourselves: “Why did they let it happen? Why didn’t people do something about it while there was still time?”
Take the Irish famine of the 1840s, an event which affected the ancestors of the many millions in Britain who are of Irish descent. While blight destroyed the staple food of the poor, the potato, other food was exported out of Ireland to be eaten by people who could afford to pay for it.
Millions were allowed to starve. It was mass murder perpetrated by the property owners who had the power to do something, but did nothing.
AIDS—on top of periodic famine—has devastated Africa. In many countries the death toll from AIDS has been decreasing, but on the African continent it is rising. AIDS-related diseases have killed more than 14 million people since 1980. AIDS has created 12.1 million orphans in Africa.
Whole countries in Africa have had a big proportion of their population—in Botswana it is over a third—infected.
This too is mass murder, but on a gigantic scale, which stretches the imagination. People in Africa have been allowed to die of AIDS in a world where medicines to control HIV, and to stop unborn children from becoming infected, are easily available.
For those who can pay.
Nothing like this has been known since the Black Death in the mid-14th century killed similar proportions of the people of Britain, France, Italy and other countries. Civilisation did not then have medicine to treat the illness. Civilisation does have the means to help the stricken people of Africa.
The US and the UK recently found billions to finance the war in Iraq—the US will have spent up to $70 billion by the end of 2003 on that war and its aftermath. Yet they do not care enough to give the money that is needed to wage effective war on AIDS in Africa. Next year the US will give just $2 billion to AIDS projects in Africa. That falls far short of the money that is needed, for drugs and other healthcare.
Yet next year’s US aid money is a big increase on what it has given in previous years. The truth is that US capitalism—and the capitalist powers in Europe—have consistently put the interests of drug companies first. The interests of those people who want to protect their profits and stop the manufacture of cheaper versions of anti-AIDS drugs.
Future generations will look back and ask the questions of us which we ask about such past horrors as the Irish famine: why did they let it happen? Unless, that is, the workers’ movements of the world can organise solidarity. The inspirational campaigns of activists on this issue in South Africa for instance have shown that it is possible to shame the governments into giving more money. That is what is needed.
The labour movement must demand of the governments of Britain, the US, etc., that they provide the money needed to stop the mass murder of African people!