Mbeki’s AIDS stance explained brilliantly (Mbeki and the Big disease)

May 4, 2010 § 2 Comments

By David Kibuuka

So where does one begin?13 years into the democracy and uncertainty about the future is at an all time high but rest assured folks things are nowhere near as bad as people make them out to be.

Okay, where do we begin? Well let’s start at the top. Thabo Mbeki, esteemed President of the Republic of South Africa . He’s not often here which seemed like a bit of a joke at first but now it seems to have comeback to bite him in the backside.Thabo and HIV. On the face of it he did terribly but a more careful analysis of the situation may reveal that old Thabo is not as empty headed as one would believe. Oh let it be said now that Thabo has a very dictatorial style ala “its may way or the highway!” Anyway let’s examine HIV.

HIV first appears on the radar in the early eighties as a “homosexual disease” or so they thought. Alarm in the gay community. Not so much alarm in the heterosexual community so nobody really cares. Then it starts to affect heterosexuals. The general population in the first world are fairly alarmed but quite informed and since most people don’t know or didn’t know of anyone dying first hand its all a bit of a myth. Meanwhile the big pharmaceutical companies are licking their lips because a disease that is transmitted sexually, kills you and has no cure is the jackpot for them. Everybody has sex so huge amounts of people will get this disease, need treatment and make the drug companies stinking rich. Hallelujah!

So the companies start to pour billions of dollars into developing a cure based on a per person spread. For example if 3 billion people get it then they sell a cure or treatment for 20 dollars per person. That’s just an example. Then what happens?

Due to education, tradition, custom or who knows what, nobody in the main markets, that is USA , Canada , Western Europe , Japan , the Arab countries and Australia get the disease. When I say nobody gets it I mean nowhere near the huge numbers predicted by the companies when they started pouring billions of dollars into the development of a cure/treatment. Obviously some people have the disease in these territories.

Meanwhile in Africa and the poorer parts of Asia the disease is going wild. Everyone is getting it. Everybody died in Uganda . But the pharmaceutical companies can’t make any money from these markets because neither the people nor the governments have any money to pay for the treatments. The infected people in these regions die horrible deaths. Yes some aid was sent but for all intents and purposes it was misery all around. Then in the late eighties and early nineties South Africa slowly moves towards democracy, the borders open up and the disease heads southwards into SA.

At this point the big multinational (read US ) companies are crying crocodile tears because they invested all this money in trying to find treatments and a cure for this disease but nobody who has any money gets infected.

Then South Africans start to get infected. The drug companies heave a sigh of relief. South Africans have money or a least their government has money so the companies can sell their treatments to South Africans and make their money back. Smiles all around in the pharmaceutical company boardrooms. I will be able to buy that Bentley after all says the CEO”(It must be pointed out though that technically at the start of the new South Africa the country was bankrupt).

It’s around this time that the companies start to talk to Thabo. Thabo knows full well that HIV causes AIDS. They have high powered negotiations in fancy hotels in sophisticated parts of the world .Thabo wants the drugs. The companies want to sell them. Everything should be sweet. Only problem is the price.

Since South Africa is for all intents and purposes the only country the companies can sell too and get the money they invested back they want South Africa to pay exorbitant prices. South Africa is their only customer.

Imagine it like this for clarification.

A hamburger shop (the pharmaceutical companies) predicts that on Saturday afternoon it’s going to be very busy. They make 100 hamburgers in anticipation on Saturday morning. They have already paid the butcher for the meat and paid the staff at the shop etc, etc so they need to sell 100 burgers. Saturday afternoon arrives and nobody comes to the shop (i.e. none of the countries come to buy burgers).Then one customer comes in (South Africa) Instead of selling him a burger at R10 they try to sell it to him at R1000 because he has got to make up the shortfall since nobody else came to buy burgers. Hope its clear.

The pharmaceutical company bosses and Thabo are sitting in a swanky London hotel sipping cognac. Thabo lives in London so its easier for them to meet there. So now you’ll recall that when we first heard about HIV in South Africa the treatment was very costly, like R5500 a month. The companies want Thabo to pay this much per person.Thabo asks Trevor, who is sitting next to him, to do the calculations. Trevor’s in London to watch a test match between the All Blacks and England . He’s a die hard supporter of the Men In Black. Luckily he has a pocket calculator on him so he pulls it out and does the calculations. Trevor tells Thabo that if South Africa pays that much per person it will bankrupt the country. Thabo tells the companies he won’t buy the drugs at that price. The companies threaten Thabo telling him that he has no choice but to buy the drugs because if his population gets wind of the fact that he won’t pay to “save lives” he will lose power. Thabo refuses to be strong armed and tells them to lower the price. They refuse, they need to make their money back. Thabo says if that’s the price then he’s not hungry. He takes a last big swig of the cognac, stands up and excuses himself saying Sierra Leone needs him. Trevor follows but not to Sierra Leone .

Meanwhile the companies go to Bush who is on a golf course on holiday and they tell him that Thabo is not co-operating. Bush swings the club and turns to the companies. They tell him that if someone doesn’t buy their drugs they will be forced to fire a whole lot of people, which would increase unemployment. Although the number of people fired would be negligible compared to the whole population this would be terrible PR for the Bush administration. They also say they won’t be able to pay their taxes because they made no money. This gets Bush’s attention because he loves taxes. He sits down, wipes his brow and has a sip of lemonade.” Man I’d kill for a beer but you know how it is.” He thinks for a while then gets and walks to his ball and gets ready to take a swing. They watch him.

He shouts back as he lifts the club. ”You guys didn’t push Thabo hard enough. Call his bluff fellas. Tell the people of Nigeria that their president refuses to buy these life saving drugs for them and see how they’ll rebel. They’ll burn Zanzibar down and burn Thabo with it; you know how these Africans are. Call his bluff man. He’s a dictator and he doesn’t wanna lose power”. Thwack, he hits the ball.

The companies go back to Thabo.

Ok, Ok they have a plan. The thing is this is a negotiation you’ve got to be flexible. They say they won’t be greedy.R1000 of the R5000 was for bonuses for them to buy private jets and Ferraris. They’ll they forgo that and charge R4000 per person. This is the same as the hamburger seller saying you can buy a burger for R800.Thabo says no. They say” But you need the burger, you’re hungry”. Thabo says he won’t buy a burger for R800, it will bankrupt him (the country).They say he has no choice. This goes on until the companies say that they’ll sell the drugs for R2200.Thabo says this is still too expensive. The companies start to fume now. They tell Thabo they are doing him a favour and he is unappreciative and they reckon they’ll just go to the South African population and explain that Thabo does not value lives .He’ll be overthrown or resign due to pressure; another guy will come into power and probably buy the drugs for R5000 per person. That Leon guy he’s cool or that Zuma guy. He’s got a cool name and 99% of people with cool names are cool people.

Thabo won’t budge. Economically it doesn’t make sense to buy these drugs at this cost. The people who are getting this disease are not exactly CEO’s and actuaries. They are the lower classes who don’t generate enough to make it economically viable to pay for these exorbitant amounts. Socially and morally it makes sense but economically it doesn’t at least not at face value. Crude and sad but true.

What does Thabo the famous chess player do now? He makes one of the boldest political moves in modern history. He tells his population that “HIV doesn’t cause Aids. Pause. The population believes him, or a huge segment of it does. Think about it. They want Mbeki out now with all this drama with Jacob but no-one wanted him out when he made this crazy statement except the liberals like the DA. The companies are in trouble. What do they do now? Any normal population would fire Thabo for saying this crazy stuff. Thabo says poverty cause AIDS not HIV. Same as saying that eating before you come to a restaurant cures hunger, the burger that you buy at the shop won’t cure hunger.

The companies can’t sell the drugs to the South African government now. Basically their only customer left the shop without buying anything. Talk about bad customer service. They go back to Bush who is shooting ducks on his ranch .The say they are gonna have to fire people and this would be bad PR for Bush’s administration. Bush says “You guys said that already, what? Do you think I’m an idiot?” They stare at him blankly then roll their eyes not wanting to answer the question. Bush shoots a deer instead of a duck but says he was aiming for it. He then thinks hard. Nothing comes to mind.

One of Bush’s people hatches a plan. They’ll donate 15 billion dollars to the fight against HIV in Africa . What this means in non-political speak is that they will buy 15 billion dollars worth of drugs from the crying companies (such babies) thus saving them and the companies will basically donate the drugs to Africa. Bush gets good PR and taxes, companies get their money back and Africans get HIV treatment. Bush is glad he thought of this plan.

So now in South Africa you can go on ARVs at a government hospital for a minimal amount, nowhere near the huge amounts from the old days. If they really thought that HIV didn’t cause Aids there’s no way they’d be giving away ARVs at government hospitals. This is a dictatorship after all. Shrewd move Thabo, shrewd move. One problem thou is the Health Minister who does not understand the nuances of international business and politics. She genuinely believes garlic can cure AIDS. Please whisper the truth into her ear Thabo.

Thabo the chess player came through. Sadly many people had to die while all this political and business maneuvering happened.

It’s difficult being the president of a country. Very difficult!

David Kibuuka is a writer and comedian.

He holds a Honours degree in Insurance and Finance from the University of the Witwaterand

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§ 2 Responses to Mbeki’s AIDS stance explained brilliantly (Mbeki and the Big disease)

  • Richard G says:

    This rant was a little difficult to follow, but as one of the evil workers of the western multinational drug companies i thought i should point out that WTO rules permit so called ‘paragraph 6 waivers’ for countries facing a health crisis.

    South Africa always had the ability to produce its own generic drugs – or import them (as it eventually did). Price was never the issue, government policy and national attitude was.

    But then i suppose blaming everyone else is easier.

  • Paul Scott says:

    Interesting article, but the logic of this statement is highly questionable:

    Thabo says poverty cause AIDS not HIV. Same as saying that eating before you come to a restaurant cures hunger, the burger that you buy at the shop won’t cure hunger.

    The burger that you are buying is, in fact, AZT, which certainly won’t cure your hunger. It will, however, give you lots of nasty side effects, and probably kill you in the end (as advertised on the packet). Your death will then be added to the statistics for AIDS deaths, and the pharmaceutical companies will sell more AZT, or its modern equivalents.

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