Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 9, 2004
Drug firms accused of genocide
Jesuit criticizes companies for high cost of AIDS drugs
By CAROL GLATZ
Catholic News Service
A Jesuit priest has condemned pharmaceutical companies for "genocidal action" in their refusal to make anti-retroviral drugs more affordable in Africa.
Father Angelo D'Agostino, a psychiatrist with 24 years' experience in Africa, said AIDS is killing 400 people a day in Kenya while in Europe and North America it is no longer considered a fatal disease.
He said the difference in mortality rates is due to "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 that shows the lack of social conscience by these capitalistic enterprises," he said.
"How will we Christians explain this silence on our part some 50 years from now?" D'Agostino asked.
He made his remarks Jan. 29 at a Vatican press conference that presented Pope John Paul's Lenten message as well as launched a special Vatican fund-raiser in support of a new project to help AIDS orphans. D'Agostino leads the project, called Nyumbani Village.
The priest said one tragic result of the HIV/AIDS pandemic is the huge number of children orphaned when one or both parents die from the illness. At least 11 million AIDS orphans were living in sub-Saharan Africa in 2001.
"No sub-Saharan African country can cope with the current number of orphans who have become street children. It is predicted that by the end of this decade there will be 30 million such street children," D'Agostino said.
D'Agostino helped establish the Children of God Relief Institute, a network of homes in Kenya that provide medical care and schooling for AIDS orphans.
He said that by the mid-1990s the homes averaged about three deaths a month, but fatalities have "dropped drastically" due to the use of anti-retroviral drugs "so that for all of 2003 we had not a single fatality."
The priest said some of the drugs used in that program are donated free of charge by the Brazilian government, but the rest have to be purchased.
At another program for AIDS orphans in Nairobi, about eight children die each month "because we don't have the funds to pay the unaffordable prices demanded by the big international drug companies," he said.
D'Agostino told Catholic News Service that "despite all the publicity and media hype out there about drug companies reducing prices . . . they haven't reduced prices enough so the people in Africa can afford (HIV/AIDS drugs)."
"It would cost just US$7 billion to save the lives of the 25 million sub-Saharan Africans who are HIV-positive and otherwise doomed," he said.
"I have been very vocal about (the problem) . . . but still the drug companies, they're just too powerful," he said.
Letter to the Editor - 03/22/04