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Zimbabwe's AIDS Emergency

In July 2001, I presented a paper at the WHO Africa Southern African Malaria Control Conference, held in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The conference was attended by the ministers of health from South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe.

Dr. Timothy Stamps, the Zimbabwean health minister spoke at length of the link between poverty and malaria and discussed how poverty and a lack of infrastructure is hampering the country's ability to control the disease. All this is of course true; malaria does hampers development and it keeps poor people locked into poverty.

However, Zimbabweans are poor not just because of malaria, in fact if malaria were the cause of their troubles, they would be an awful lot better off! The Zimbabwean government, under the direction of President Mugabe, has created the grinding poverty that now ensures that over 60% of the population is living below the poverty line.

By undermining the rule of law and showing scant regard for property rights, the government has presided over the destruction of the entire economy. People are unable to buy even the most basic commodities and starvation is widespread and increasing. This has little or nothing to do with malaria, Aids or any other disease. It is not surprising that President Mugabe is going to over ride patents and sanction the use of generics - if he doesn't respect the rights of landowners (or any political opposition) why should he care about the rights of pharmaceutical companies?

Yet will generics solve the problems of drug access in Zimbabwe? The country has only 14 physicians per 100 000 people and a crumbling health infrastructure. There is enormous dissatisfaction within the public health system and physicians and nurses frequently strike.

It doesn't seem as if Cipla, the Indian generics manufacturer, or any other generics producer is going to provide the kind of support necessary to ensure that the right drugs are delivered with the appropriate support for physicians and patients. This is the advantage of negotiating and cooperating with the research based drug companies.

But first, President Mugabe should start spending some money on the fight against AIDS and stop buying himself and his cronies new Mercedes Benz cars and Saville Row suits.

Comments? email Richard Tren

More on this theme - Malaria keeps people poor, but so does government

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