A move from the ground

Print edition : August 13, 2004

`Asian People's Charter on HIV/AIDS: Amplifying the Voices of the People Affected, Infected, Living With and Suffering from HIV/AIDS; Calling for Immediate Action.'

THE banner calling for action does not sound unique, especially when thousands of other such labels and nomenclatures are floating around at a mega global conference on a subject that has seen the focus of numerous programmes and projects.

Even the presence of more than a 100 participants from several Asian countries could not draw much attention from the larger audiences at the Bangkok conference.

However, the event could not be ignored. Indeed, it managed to get some media attention.

Thailand's trade unions, representatives from the People's Health Movement, mass organisations, parliamentarians, and NGOs from South Asia and South-East Asian countries, including Afghanistan, China, Iran and Palestine, participated in it.

What emerged from the interactions was a common voice that was reflected in the declaration: "Health is a social, economic and political issue and, above all, a fundamental human right. Inequality, poverty, exploitation, violence and injustice are at the root of ill-health and the death of poor and marginalised people. Health for all means that powerful interests have to be challenged, globalisation has to be opposed, and political and economic priorities have to be drastically reoriented. HIV/AIDS is a public health issue that calls for medical, social and political responses."

This declaration, on July 9, marked the launch of the Asian People's Alliance for Combating HIV & AIDS (APACHA).

Representatives of Thailand's trade unions, currently battling to halt the privatisation of the power sector, spoke on how the economic policies of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's government, and his brutal handling of drug users and HIV/AIDS patients exacerbated the situation in the country.

Indian trade unionists and health movement activists spoke about the virtual collapse of the primary health care systems and the privatisation of the health sector in the country, leading to a massive spread of communicable and non-communicable diseases among the poor.

APACHA draws much of its vision from the People's Health Movement and its charter from the Mumbai declaration of the III International Forum for the Defence of the People's Health, held just prior to the World Social Forum 2004. The People's Health Movement, a mass movement with a presence in over 100 countries, campaigns for `Health for All'.

It emphasises the importance of primary health care strategies at both the global and national levels. The alliance challenges the power structures and policies the structural adjustment programme of the World Bank-International Monetary Fund, unequal trade agreements, corporate-driven privatisation or free-market fundamentalism - which affect public health systems adversely in developing and underdeveloped countries. APACHA hopes to be a broad alliance that brings together people from various walks of life. The battle against HIV/AIDS has to go beyond the arena of health and medicine and include care and compassion, combined with an initiative to build alliances with trade unions, women's organisations, Dalit movements and so on.

While APACHA deals with the issues of leadership, prevention, care and support, treatment, reducing vulnerability, research and development and resources - identified as the key elements of anti-AIDS campaigns at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS in June 2001 - its core area of action lies more in the realm of politics and the political economy of health. It pledges itself to continue with the various campaigns for the right of people to receive anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment as part of the public health care services and opposes changes to patent laws, which are bound to escalate drug prices.

Similarly, APACHA questions several stances of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Joint U.N. Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and asks the two organisations to shift their position on the issue of drug pricing and the 3 by 5 initiative.

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