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Pills Profits Protest: A Chronicle of the Global AIDS Movement

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A excerpt of the documentary “Pills Profits Protest: Chronicle of the Global AIDS Movement.” The film examines the international grassroots response to the AIDS crisis and takes an in-depth look at the battle for access to HIV treatment among the poorest and most marginalized communities around the world. [includes rush transcript]

We play an excerpt from the documentary “Pills Profits Protest: Chronicle of the Global AIDS Movement.” The film examines the national and international grass roots response to the AIDS crisis. It takes an in-depth look at the battle for access to HIV treatment among the poorest and most marginalized communities as they confront larger powers, including governments, corporate bodies and the multinational drug industry.

Pills, Profits, Protest was produced and directed by Anne-christine d”Adesky, Shanti Avirgan and Ann Rossetti. It premiered last December on World AIDS Day on the Showtime cable network.

  • Pills Profits Protest, excerpt of * documentary*, courtesy of Outcast Films.
  • Shanti Avirgan, co-producer and co-director of the Pills Profits Protest.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Pills, Profits, Protest was produced and directed by Anne-christine d’Adesky, Shanti Avirgan and Ann Rossetti. It premiered last December on World AIDS Day on the Showtime cable network. This clip begins with Amanda Lugg of the African Services Committee speaking at the June 2001 Stop Global AIDS March in New York City.

AMANDA LUGG: Thank you for being here, because today is the day, and New York City is the place. Today is the day when we say to the nations of the world, “Enough! Enough!” 21 million dead from AIDS is enough. 36 million people around the world infected with the HIV virus is enough. This coming week, the United Nations first ever General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS will submit their resolution on their response to the global AIDS plague. Before they do, they will hear the demands of their citizenry. We affirm the demands of people living with HIV/AIDS in the global south for access to care, treatment and support.

KOFI ANNAN: We are here to discuss an unprecedented crisis, but one that has a solution. We are here to agree on the action we will take. That is why I have called for a global AIDS and health fund, open to both governments and private donors to help us finance the comprehensive, coherent, coordinated strategy we need.

MILLIE KATANA: The Global Fund kicked off in June of 2001. Kofi Annan made a call for more money to address the three diseases, and shortly thereafter, donors got interests in the whole thing. That’s something that’s promising to bridge the gap of the global health crisis.

COLIN POWELL: The fund is over half a billion and growing to a billion with some of the contributions I heard about today. And as we are able to, we would add more money to the trust fund as we went forward.

JAMES WOLFENSOHN: When you come to look at the question of AIDS, and you say $16 per capita throughout Africa, and you know that many countries are spending $5 or less per capita on healthcare in official spending, you really get a sense of how limited is the capacity for contribution in many of these countries.

PETER PIOT: The estimate that we made in UNAIDS of the needs for low and middle income countries to contain this epidemic are between $7 billion and $10 billion. And so the gap, the five-fold increase that the world needs, will come from a variety of sources: the budgets of the developing countries themselves, public, private, money that is freed up from debt relief, irregular bilateral and multilateral channels, and then there is the fund.

AMY GOODMAN: That was a clip of the documentary, Pills, Profits, Protest: Chronicle of the Global AIDS Movement. We are joined now by Shanti Avirgan. She’s a co-producer and co-director of the film. Welcome.


AMY GOODMAN: What did you learn from this?

SHANTI AVIRGAN: From making the film? What we really learned is something we already knew from being involved as activists in this movement, actually, which is that the most important thing about AIDS activism is that it’s been led by people living with HIV and AIDS, and the leadership of people who are actually infected with the disease, in a public health context, is really unprecedented. And it’s put the issue of human rights and the human rights of people who are living with this disease at the center of the activist response.

And in making this film, it was really impressive to see how activists have really learned how to confront some of these larger powers, such as the IMF and the World Bank and even the United Nations system, as we’re seeing happening right now. So it’s really been a very inspiring process of documenting this emerging global movement.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And their ability to actually impact the policy decisions by leaders, for the most part who obviously are not victims of the disease?

SHANTI AVIRGAN: Yes. Well, I think that one of the most impressive things has been actually the impact on the global trade agreements, which I think Jamie Love will speak to in a few minutes. There’s been actually a huge impact on the kind of conceptualization of what medicines are and whether medicines are going to be treated like a commodity or like a health issue. And I think that debate has really kind of transformed some of the global trade negotiations that are happening in the World Trade Organization, for example.

AMY GOODMAN: And in your film, how you depict the most powerless people, the people who are sick, and yet people who are banding together, taking on the most powerful, the large pharmaceutical companies and the relationships with the governments.

SHANTI AVIRGAN: Yeah. I think that again it depends — this issue of access to medicines and access to treatment really depends on where you’re positioned, right? And if you’re living with the disease or if you’re involved with people, if you’re close to people who are affected by this disease, it looks very different than if you’re sitting on the board of a pharma company. But I think that activists have been savvy in getting the attention of some of those leaders. And I think what we’re seeing happening at the U.N. right now with this kind of reevaluation of these very ambitious goals that were set out five years ago is this kind of — the need to continue this kind of activism and continue to hold people accountable for these big promises.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Shanti Avirgan, we’re going to turn now to a debate on Big Pharma and AIDS. Thank you very much for being with us.

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A Debate on the Role of Pharmaceutical Companies and Access to HIV Treatment in the Developing World

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