African scientists need an HIV/AIDS research fund
Bush and Mbeki have something in common: when a political issue isn't
fitting with their agenda, they ask questions to scientists.
Last week Bush felt that scientists must provide more evidences on
climate changes. Last year Mbeki questioned the link between HIV and
Let us hope that Bush will continue to follow the example set by
Mbeki who after questioning, admitted that his questions may have
caused more confusion, and then apparently stopped questioning and
started talking about the issue in a public address in South Africa;
Yet Bush and Mbeki's doubts are raising another question regarding
the cost of research.
If we strictly follow the reasoning of Western states, research on
HIV/AIDS is expensive, and they consider it necessary to find solu-
tions to preserve the interests of the large pharmaceutical corpora-
tions who enjoy patent rights on medicines;
see WTO discussion on essential medicines:
So if you follow this reasoning, it means that the next step for con-
vincing Bush would be to patent global warming, to negotiate patent
rights for desertification, to privatise endangered species, etc.
But could the fight against global climate changes ever become a
source of revenues for Western countries? Of course not! This is an
issue requiring the will of people world-wide to push it and to re-
quest from the persons they elect to tackle it.
So why is AIDS so different than climate changes? AIDS has the poten-
tial of generating revenues, thus the patents chemists issue on medi-
Saying that an HIV/AIDS research costs money is correct.
But saying that because this research costs money, we must then en-
sure that patent rights are granted to pharmaceutical corporations,
All research cost money.
If we start to only research things that bring patent rights to cor-
porations, we must be very clear about the consequences.
Research on HIV/AIDS must be independent from pharmaceutical corpora-
tions, in order to ensure unbiased research.
In a previous post, I have reproduced an interesting discussion about
(see http://www.hivnet.ch:8000/africa/af-aids/viewR?1078). It will
show you that there are certain research even on HIV/AIDS that are
conflicting with the interests of pharmaceutical corporations.
One of the basis of democracies is to separate powers: executive,
legislative and judicial.
Today we need to take a difficult decision regarding research. Should
research be recognised as a power: the power to observe, to criti-
cise, to independently debate, to write research proposals, to debate
research spending, to advocate research funds, to allocate them, to
perform studies, to publish?
Research has been benefiting from the peer review system. There are
flaws to it, as it is a human process with shortcomings. But all in
all, science, research and peer review have astonished the world in
what they can achieve.
Peer review requires a diversity of opinions. Science isn't anonymous.
It has faces and names; persons who have emotions and fears regarding
the outcome of their research (see "Des hommes probables - de la
procréation aléatoire à la reproduction normative" by Jacques Testart,
Ed. Seuil, 1999, ISBN 2-02-036749-1).
Research isn't an institute or a corporation speaking with a cold
public relation tone, it is a group of authors, sometimes from vari-
ous institutions and countries, writing together.
Unlike corporations, scientists do not need a public image to perform
well; they are not motivated by profit or greed, but by the sense of
their mission. Scientists aren't seeking to be understood by the pub-
lic, but instead to convince their peers or whoever is or will be
ready to read them (today or even in future times).
The European Union pushes the creation of carefully managed expertise
research centres. It will quench peer review, it will demotivate re-
Research on HIV/AIDS must become an opportunity for research scien-
tists in Africa and for scientific PLWAs in Africa, to develop re-
search skills and to develop research facilities in Africa.
For that to open, African universities must have access to a research
fund (see also "African Governments Lagging Behind in Scientific De-
velopment" http://allafrica.com/stories/200106080330.html ).
Let us not further polarised the world by centralising research ex-
pertise at a few spots in Western countries enjoying closed relations
with Western pharmaceutical corporations.
If the global HIV/AIDS fund set-up by Kofi Annan will sponsor re-
search, I do believe it should be made EXCLUSIVELY accessible to sci-
entists in AFRICA or other POOR COUNTRIES affected by HIV/AIDS.
This could be coined "Equal Opportunity Research". I invite you to
visit a corresponding survey. 100% of the 33 persons who answered fa-
vour that research performed on blood tissues collected in Botswana
are undertaken at facilities of the University of Botswana, instead
of at an overseas institute (partly sponsored by Western pharmaceuti-
This page was visited among others by: UNDP (http://www.undp.org), US
Dept. of Justice (http://www.usdoj.gov), Voice of America
(http://www.voa.gov), Harvard AIDS Institute
(http://aids.harvard.edu), Siemens (http://www.siemens.de), GTZ
(http://www.gtz.de), World Bank (http://www.worldbank.org). These
visits may be a sign that there is an increasing awareness among or-
ganisations to include African universities into a global research
effort on HIV/AIDS.
During the genotyping of human, several persons campaigned so that it
remains for everyone on Earth. What about genotyping a human disease,
such as a virus? Whom should the genotyping of an HIV sub-type 1C be-
The Yale paper mentioned by Cecilia to solve the conflict between
pharmaceutical corporations and poor countries does remind us of the
Berlin Wall: split the world into two (see "Yale Economist Introduces
Proposal to Settle Debate Between Pharmaceutical Companies and Devel-
To avoid that such economical priorities revive geopolitical solutions
(see "Géopolitique et Histoire" by Claude Raffestin, Ed. Histoire
Payot, 1995, ISBN 2-228-88901-6), we need to find new concepts.
Questions such as HIV/AIDS can not be solved with an army or with a
map of the world. Using this dangerous geopolitics as a tool to solve
an health issue is pass?. Because a world with a wall needs soldiers
to make sure no one crosses that wall. Soldiers aren't health work-
ers. So geopolitics won't help. And what would be the basis of the
wall? A knowledge!
I suggest that we push a new concept of "epistemopolitics" instead of
Just as people viewed the world with the eyes of pioneers, science
and research has been long viewed as a world of scientific pioneers.
I hope I won't shock you too much by saying that this pioneer vision
is also passé. Today you are not *exploring* knowledge, but you are
trying to find your orientation within an overload of related issues.
Sometimes the answer to a problem may be found in another field of
interest dealing with a similar problem. Medical doctors are trained
to do just that: dia-gnostics (dia = through, gnostics = knowledge).
But imagine that a knowledge-soldier would sit in their brain saying:
"stop here! your paper please? nope, that thought please forget about
it, your patient is too poor, return to your original thought and try
recalling something cheaper!".
What need to be done is to define a new way to look at the "forest of
techniques and knowledge". In analogy to a forest, we need some roads
in order to find an orientation between related techniques. Whatever
is essential to the world should be public "knowledge roads" and
maintained as such. The small side paths could be left to private
patents, whenever they are not essential to everyone.
This "epistemopolitics" is my reading of the historical invention of
the alternative current by Nikola Tesla, whose patents were later ig-
nored by corporations. We have the choice to either introduce a gen-
eral "patent fair use", or to start regulating the way patents are
issued, not in terms of which domain of knowledge may or may not be
patented, but in terms of whether they are essential to the world or
Christian Labadie, M.S.
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