Tag Archives: AIDS

Imperialism Program for Africa: Billions in Profits, Pennies for AIDS

PART II

(Conclusion. In our post the source of AIDS was traced to the holocaust-like poverty heaped on Africans through colonialism, forced labor and slavery, creating starvation conditions which impelled these super-oppressed people to kill apes for food, apes which–it later turned out–carried the AIDS virus.)

Starting in the 1960’s, African societies changed from colonialism to rule by indigenous nationalist or fascist rulers allied with imperialism. For example, the Belgian Congo became Zaire. Patrice Lumumba was assassinated by the CIA. They installed Mobuto, a worthy successor to King Leopold in greed and bloodthirstiness. South Africa and Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe) remained under fascist apartheid throughout this period. Armies of male migrant workers left the countryside for the newly-crowded cities, while their wives remained behind in remote rural areas. Prostitution became a major growth industry, some European companies even setting up whorehouses near their factories for their workers. A seemingly endless series of nationalist and inter-imperialist wars sent millions of soldiers and refugees all over central Africa.

Enslaved by the global market economy, conditions created by colonialism continued and worsened in “post-colonial” African societies. HIV spread like wildfire through populations ravaged by poverty, war, famine and disease. HIV spread to Europe and the U.S., and then to Haiti and Thailand, primarily through sex tourism, often child prostitution. Prostitution and dirty needles spread it to Latin America, India and Eastern Europe, centers of new epidemics. The IMF’s (International Monetary Fund) stranglehold on poor countries caused massive unemployment, promoted prostitution, imposed cutbacks in health care and education and made life-saving drugs unaffordable.

Sexism kills, just as surely as–and combined with–racism. In Africa, traditional oppression of women has meshed with new, profit-driven forms of oppression. In southern Africa, married women often don’t dare ask their husbands to wear condoms, and are pressured by relatives to stay unprotected for maximum fertility. Husbands are expected to have many sex partners while their wives are expected to be monogamous.

Some day the HIV pandemic will be known as one of imperialism’s worst crimes. Rulers in both Africa and the U.S. claim that the situation is hopeless, and that millions are doomed. Yet the money it would take to provide effective prevention and therapy now ($100 billion yearly) is only a small fraction of what imperialists spent on wars against Iraq and Vietnam. It is an even smaller fraction of the profits they’ve made from African rubber, diamonds, gold, copper, oil and slave labor. In a few countries (like Uganda and Thailand) even simple prevention campaigns have had a big impact. So building a larger movement now, that refuses to accept rules protecting the bosses’ profits, can save many more lives. Mass production and distribution of pirated anti-AIDS drugs, in collaboration with medical workers in Africa, can prevent transmission and provide treatment for millions.

A larger movement must also lead a sharp and prolonged struggle against sexism in order to transform relationships between men, women and children, ending prostitution and sex slavery. It must fight to end the super-exploitation of migrant labor. These goals can only be achieved through the revolutionary destruction of capitalism. The experience of once socialist China in eradicating prostitution, syphilis and drug addiction (which have all returned in now capitalist China) shows that revolutionary communism can, even in poor societies, solve massive public health problems.

Sources: Hahn, B.H. et al. (2000); Korber et al. (2000); Science 287: 607 Chitnis et al. (2000), AIDS Res. Hum. Retroviruses 16: 5-8; Gao et al. (1999) Nature 397: 436-441; Hooper, E.M. (1999) The River; Schoofs (2000) “The Agony of Africa” (at http://www.villagevoice.com/specials/africa) ScientificAmerican, January 2000; New York Times, 6/28/00 and 7/9/00. Recommended background: A. Hochschild King Leopold’s Ghost; W. Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa; B. Davidson, “The Black Man’s Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation-State”

 

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King Leopold’s Legacy: Imperialism and the Origin of AIDS

“I can choose to die of starvation now, or of AIDS later”—Prostitute in Harare, Zimbabwe

A continuing holocaust of mind-numbing dimensions. Fifteen million have already died. Thirty-four million are HIV-infected, including 25 million in sub-Saharan Africa. HIV/AIDS will kill 67% of today’s teenagers in some African countries. Women are twice as likely as men to become infected. Thirty million African orphans are predicted by 2010, life expectancies dropping from 70 years to 30 in some countries. If neutron bombs were dropped on the dozen biggest cities of Africa, the damage could not be worse. International response to this crisis has been obscene. Bosses and politicians fight over drug prices and profits, while they spend much more on Viagra and baldness remedies ($333 million QUARTERLY earnings, according to Pfizer), than on all international HIV programs in sub-Saharan Africa ($600 million YEARLY of international aid for HIV/AIDS).

Though many see the AIDS pandemic either as a “natural” disaster or as a biological warfare conspiracy, it is actually rooted in the devastation imperialism has inflicted on African societies. This first of a series of articles on the political economy of AIDS will discuss where the HIV virus and the AIDS pandemic in Africa came from.

Scientists have recently learned much about the origin of HIV. Like influenza and rabies, AIDS is a disease transmitted from animals to humans. The closest relatives of HIV are SIVs, viruses carried by apes and monkeys. HIV-1 most resembles a chimpanzee SIV, found in rain forests of coastal West Africa. HIV-2, a milder West African virus, is nearly identical to a monkey SIV. These viruses have lived in their natural hosts for millions of years and don’t make them sick. Among scientists, the currently favored idea of how the viruses jumped into humans is that people hunted chimps and monkeys for meat, and cut themselves while butchering.

HIV is relatively new to humans. The earliest verified HIV case was in 1959, in Kinshasa, Congo; African blood samples from earlier times are free of the virus. HIV exploded in Africa during the early 1970’s, just before it spread to the U.S. and Europe. Very early cases were found near the borders of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. From there it quickly spread to Zambia and Tanzania. Before the 1970’s, AIDS was as unknown in Africa as in the U.S.

HIV evolves rapidly. Its gene sequences accumulate mutations in a steady, clock-like manner. The more differences, the more time has passed since viruses had a common ancestor. By comparing the genes of currently circulating viruses, it is possible to make an informed guess as to when the common M type of HIV-1, the one responsible for the worldwide pandemic, began. The best guess is in the 1930’s.

HIVs not only jumped from animals to humans recently; they also did so OFTEN, at least four times. This is inferred from the fact that some HIV strains are genetically more similar to SIVs than to each other. So it seems that HIV is relatively easy to catch from animals, and that no special mutations are needed to make it virulent in humans. In fact, a lab worker recently developed AIDS from a monkey SIV after an accidental needle stick.

So, if the virus jumps easily to humans, why did the pandemic not start until the late 20th century? What changed that made repeated transfer to humans more likely and explosive growth a certainty?

Until the late 19th century, most Africans farmed and lived in rural villages. Then feverish land grabs among imperialists—seeking rubber, gold, ivory and diamonds—created the largest forced labor system since African-American slavery. For example, King Leopold II of Belgium seized the Congo and ruled it for years as his personal rubber plantation. Fifteen million Congolese died in this genocidal holocaust. Forced labor was the rule in colonial Africa. Copper mines in Katanga (Congo) rounded up miners from Zambia, Rwanda, Angola and Mozambique. Colonial armies drafted millions of Africans during both world wars. During the 1930’s, the French built a railroad through coastal West Africa, drafting hundreds of thousands of African laborers from distant locations and marching them through the rain forest under appalling conditions of near-starvation. According to one theory, it is here that Africans first were exposed to SIVs, as workers made desperate by starvation had to hunt apes as food.

Another theory places the origin of AIDS in the Belgian Congo and neighboring countries. In his thoughtful book, The River, Edward Hooper argues that HIV spread to humans through racist trials of polio vaccines. During the late 1950’s, Hilary Koprowski of Philadelphia’s Wistar Institute gave an experimental oral vaccine to over 300,000 Africans, using them as guinea pigs. Hooper suggests that Koprowski may have grown vaccine poliovirus in chimp cells contaminated with the SIV ancestor of HIV. Hooper’s ideas lack solid evidence, but they are being taken seriously enough to prompt testing of remnant vaccine stocks.

Whichever theory turns out to be true, it is clear that the crossover of the virus was a result of conditions created by colonialism. But what caused HIV’s later explosive growth? (Continued tomorrow)

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D.C. Rally Blasts Pols Over Housing for AIDS Victims

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 1, –– Progressive Labor Party members celebrated World AIDS Day today at a rally demanding housing for people living with AIDS. Our central objective was to help our friends understand that capitalist politicians cannot give us what we need, that racism like that of the AIDS epidemic is inherent in capitalism, and that only developing a revolutionary party to destroy capitalism and racism can get us off the treadmill of begging our rulers for crumbs as our friends die.

We joined with 60 people from DC Fights Back, the Metropolitan Washington Public Health Association, American Medical Students Association, Student Global Aids, Empower DC (a D.C. housing advocacy NGO) and the National AIDS Housing Coalition. We demanded immediate housing for the 278 people on the D.C. waiting list for the Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS (HOPWA) Program. This program is pitifully under-funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The noon rally outside the field office of HUD included a picket line around tents and cardboard houses with brightly-painted signs calling AIDS housing a life-or-death issue. We demanded that the HUD director speak to us. We chanted “Racism means, FIGHT BACK” and “AIDS housing is the name of the game, HUD and HOPWA, Shame, Shame, Shame.” One speaker declared that stable housing for people living with AIDS is an absolute necessity so that complex AIDS medical treatments can actually be implemented and maintained. After initially refusing to meet, housing officials finally responded by offering to schedule a meeting on the issue.

The strength of this event was its multiracial composition and its confrontational nature. The coalition challenged the power structure by demanding housing, the critical missing link in AIDS treatment, going beyond education and outreach efforts in the community. As supposedly “progressive” D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty cozies up to developers and closes homeless shelters like the downtown Franklin Shelter, the battle for housing will become fiercer. In fact, when real estate developers threw Fenty a lavish birthday party on December 6, over 100 furious housing advocates and union members confronted Fenty and his billionaire buddies, carrying a big angry sign saying, “Kill the Homeless—Vote Fenty”.

Recruiting our friends to the PLP’s revolutionary strategy remains challenging. PLPers working in the community and with students brought a contingent of 15 people to the World AIDS Day protest and its four planning meetings, but many still harbor illusions about pressuring politicians and hoping for good results. One friend told us, “I really felt more comfortable with this rally than at May Day. May Day was good but this is my struggle.” We have to win him and others to seeing that the real struggle is against the capitalist system even as we fight day to day for the working class.

CHALLENGE was distributed at the rally and several participants in this work read it regularly. As the battle with the city and federal government heats up, and as the economic crisis intensifies, the need for revolutionary action will become clearer to our readers. Today’s study groups and regular reading of CHALLENGE will help many see and join the road to revolution.

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D.C. Rally Hits Profit-Driven Housing Shortage in AIDS Fight


WASHINGTON DC, June 21 —
Over 50 people rallied for more effective HIV prevention and more affordable housing in the Congress Heights neighborhood — one of D.C.’s worst hit areas in terms of HIV. Every 3rd Saturday of the month, the Metropolitan Washington Public Health Association’s Health Disparities Committee (MWPHA) and several other groups visit neighborhoods to raise the awareness about HIV/AIDS prevention and care.

PLP has been organizing within MWPHA for some time now.  We have struggled with our friends to not just hand out condoms but also to directly confront the bosses for their racist neglect of HIV patients. Out of that struggle we have won the group to have these rallies and to link the fight against HIV/AIDS with the fight for housing, jobs, drug treatment, and more youth programs, including sex education in all schools as a way to see that we must fight the whole capitalist system.  One of MWPHA’s major demands is for more affordable housing for everyone living with HIV/AIDS to help people prevent and manage HIV. PLP members distributed about 35 CHALLENGES and plan on having study groups to discuss how communism can ensure health equity for all workers.

During this last rally we chanted, “Affordable Housing is the Name of the Game, Soccer Stadium – Shame, Shame, Shame!”, “Racism Means Fight Back, HIV Means Fight Back, Housing Mean, Fight Back,” and much more. People marched around the neighborhood with signs and distributed a flier that compared the amount of public money offered to a soccer stadium developer — up to $225 MILLION — with the amount of housing that could be provided to people who need homes.  Over 25,000 people are on the waiting list for housing vouchers (Section 8 ) and about 200 people with AIDS are waiting for housing funded by a federal program called HOPWA.

Housing and HIV

People with no stable housing are 3-9 times more likely to get HIV.  Unstable housing puts people in very vulnerable positions that often lead to drug addiction and exchanging sex for a place to stay.  Homeless individuals with HIV or AIDS have much more trouble taking their medications correctly or at all (National AIDS Housing Coalition, http://www.nahc.org). Meanwhile, affordable housing has been disappearing because capitalism puts making profits — high rental costs and sparse housing assistance — over the needs of workers.  In the 1970s MWPHA requested over 400,000 vouchers for rental assistance; in 2003 the budget included less than 40,000 vouchers.

Revolution…Communism…HIV?

A revolution for a communist society gives workers the power to eliminate profit in all aspects of society so we can meet the needs of our class. It also eliminates racism that developers and their politicians use to favor stadiums and condos over workers’ basic necessities for life. In China when the working class had control, everyone had access to basic health care, lived free of epidemics like schistosomiasis, and had an average life expectancy that increased from 35 to 68 years. Unfortunately, they abandoned this system and gave control of health to private organizations that charged for services and required health insurance.  Infectious diseases and infant mortality rates have soared (Blumentha D, Hsiao W. Privatization and its discontents – the evolving Chinese health care system. New England Journal of Medicine; 2005. 353(11): 1165-70).  Progressive Labor Party invites all of our activist friends to join us in raising the class struggle for a workers’ dictatorship, so we can really save the health of our class.

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‘War on AIDS’ Needs War on Capitalism

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 15 — Over 120 public health workers and students met at the annual meeting of the MWPHA (Metropolitan Washington Public Health Association) with the goal of launching a more intense HIV/AIDS advocacy. Speakers and workshop participants attacked the “social determinants of disease” — lack of housing, jobs, and youth development programs, and widespread substance abuse. Most attendees wanted to break out of their small boxes and form a strong unified movement to demand more resources from the federal and local government.

Scrambling for small grants for NGOs and trying to help resolve complicated individual problems of AIDS sufferers is not enough! Most participants felt that the war on AIDS should be joined with a war on capitalist institutions. Reflecting higher levels of awareness, a speaker attacked the “war on drugs” as a war on people. Others noted that the phony “war on terror” drained resources from public health programs. Attendees agreed to testify at city council budget hearings and did so the next week.

This MWPHA conference moved from the traditional public health education to pushing for aggressive political pressure on the system to beat the factors that sharpen the devastation of AIDS. A virus may cause HIV/AIDS, but capitalism and its racist impoverishment of millions transform it into an epidemic by increasing peoples’ vulnerability.

Stable affordable housing is at the forefront of this battle; without it, consistent treatment is almost impossible. But pressure on the system, however bold and militant, is not enough. Capitalism must be overthrown to get at the root of the problem. Too many activists in the HIV/AIDS movement are still far from embracing this goal. But, step by step, some progress is being made.

PLP members’ active in this struggle have led regular public outreach in Ward 8, the lowest income area in D.C. These actions began only with condom distribution and education, and have progressed to community speak-outs and rallies. The stage is set for more intense struggle — confronting politicians and city agencies in their offices around demands for housing and drug treatment. PLP must win more people to its politics to turn struggles like this into schools for communism.

The building of a revolutionary party amid public health struggles is hard work but is the only way forward. We have launched study-action groups that explain how communism can destroy capitalism and its epidemics, but political theory among our friends remains weak. This opens the door to the Obama/Democratic Party deception, taking grants from the archenemies of public health like Pfizer and other drug companies, and a belief that building NGOs will show the way forward.

At this vital time, during growing racism and fascism in the U.S., a financial crisis and endless imperialist wars abroad, we must intensify our struggle to win our friends to step forward and join the communist PLP for the long-term struggle to destroy the racist root cause of AIDS/HIV.

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AIDS Day Hears Revolutionary Message on Epidemic

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 1 – Several PLPers joined over 200 activists who rallied at the White House on Friday, November 30th for World AIDS Day, an annual rally to demand aggressive action against the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Our message to demonstrators — it will take revolution to defeat the racist neglect of AIDS! At the rally, we distributed Challenges and flyers that urged our friends to join a PLP study-action group. Four of them attended the first meeting two weeks later. Activists need to stop trying to elect politicians or just promoting new HIV testing and educational programs. We need to figure out how to unite black, white, and immigrant workers for communism and the PLP so the working class can take power and reorganize society to meet the needs of our class.

The World AIDS rally demanded that the D.C. Board of Education approve comprehensive sex education for all students including safe sex, abstinence, and respect for gays, lesbians, and transgendered people. Since the rally, the Board has agreed in principle to require this. Demonstrators also demanded that the U.S. government end ridiculous restrictions on the $15 billion it provides to countries struggling with HIV that force them to use 1/3 of the prevention funds for abstinence-only programs and to limit outreach to women forced into prostitution.

Forty people carried out civil disobedience around these demands, refusing to move from the White House sidewalk. Others maintained a steady stream of chants.

More activists are taking to the streets in D.C. to improve the health of all residents. Students from George Washington University continue to fight for drug treatment on demand and are helping the Metropolitan Washington Public Health Association organize a spring conference on substance use, HIV, and mental health. Another student group militantly picketed a CVS drug store in a black neighborhood demanding it unlock its condoms, chanting, “1 in 20 with HIV — CVS, Set the Condoms FREE!”, and distributed free condoms to scores of people who stopped to talk to us.

The latest report from the D.C. Department of Health confirmed that 1 in 20 D.C. residents lives with HIV and 80 percent of people newly diagnosed are African American. HIV remains the leading cause of death for young black women and men nationwide. We urge other CHALLENGE readers to join the fight against HIV/AIDS and the capitalist system with its poverty, racism, homophobia and imperialist war that has made this disease into a global epidemic.

DC Red

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PL’ers At March Tie Profit System to AIDS Epidemic

Washington, DC. Nov. 3 — Over 150 residents, students, professionals, and HIV/AIDS activists took to the streets of Southeast D.C.,AIDS Rally where the rates of poverty and HIV/AIDS are soaring. 150 CHALLENGEs were taken from PLPers by marchers and people in the neighborhood during the event. PLPers argued for communist revolution to smash the capitalist system that has turned AIDS into a worldwide genocidal epidemic.

The chants and signs in today’s march attracted support from residents: “When people with AIDS are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” “Racism means, Fight back!” “Jobs yes, Prison no, HIV has got to go!” Many speakers talked about their experiences with drugs and HIV, calling on the group to end the silence. A PLP speaker identified capitalism as the source of the HIV/AIDS epidemic because it places profit over workers’ lives.

The march and meeting was organized by the Disparities Committee of the Metropolitan Washington Public Health Association (MWPHA) and by DC Fights Back. Some communist issues, like the battle for state power, the fight against racist police brutality, and the way that capitalist-induced poverty makes diseases ever more deadly for the working class have been discussed in previous Disparities Committee meetings. Other participants in today’s action included the national organizer for the Campaign to End Aids (C2EA) who helped lead the rally, RAP, Inc. (Regional Addition Prevention, Inc.), George Washington University students who led the “Save Lives, Free the Condoms” chant to protest CVS’s racist policy of locking up condoms in drugstores in black neighborhoods, and students from the Drug Treatment on Demand group who led the chant, “Treat it to Defeat It” referring to the need for universally available substance abuse treatment. Some members the Young Black Public Health Professional Network and other attendees at the national convention of American Public Health Association joined the march as well.

After the march, participants gathered at a library for a speak-out and food, where they discussed strategies to move the struggle to the next level, including fighting for more affordable housing and long term rehabilitation with jobs and housing.

PLP supports and participates in all these struggles showing that as long as there is capitalismo, the working class and its allies will continue to suffer epidemics, racism and mass poverty, particularly more now in this age of endless wars and economic crisis. In the long run, the best way to fight these evils is rooting out its cause: capitalism. Join the PLP to make sure this happens sooner than later!ng class oppression.

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