United States Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson was scheduled to give a speech on advances in preventing the spread of AIDS between mothers and children at an internation AIDS conference when he was booed off the stage by protestors dissatisfied with the money the US contributes to a global fund to combat the disease. While the protestors may (and I want to emphasize may--all I'm saying is I'm not well-informed enough on the issue to declare a categorical endorsement or rejection) have a point that--despite being the single biggest contributor--the US's portion of the kitty is smaller than it ought to be, and certainly enjoyed the opportunity to make that point, they lost a lot of crediblity with me when, having garnered the notice they no doubt craved, they prevented Thompson's speech from being heard. The secretary also declined to appear at a scheduled Q&A session. These actions transformed the group from protesters to obstructionists, from dissenters to people with nothing to offer but obnoxiousness. Frankly, if I were an AIDS activist, I'd be incensed at the black eye these yo-yos gave the movement.
A couple of things struck me about this incident. One is, while I can't say whether the US contribution to the Global Fund is adequate, I'm sure that US$250 million does not represent the entirety of this country's effort in combating AIDS--there's money the US government is spending on its own (not as part of the global fund) and funds various non-government research groups are spending as well. I think it's significant that the anti-HIV drugs people kvetch are too costly seem to have been developed in or by the US, no doubt at monstrous cost. While I'd condemn drug companies for price-gouging, they are entitled for a returns on their investment (more on that thought later).
Second, given that Thompson's speech was on advances made in preventing the spread of HIV from mother to child, I can't help but wonder if there isn't some dispute over how the money is allocated; that is, who the research is intended to benefit. But after digesting the news from this conference that HIV infection is increasing again in the US, half the cases of infection in the US are undiagnosed, and that three-quarters of a population surveyed were unaware they carried HIV despite indulging in risky behavior, I have absolutely no problem with the focus being on preventing the spread of disease to infants.
That goes back to the return-on-investment question. Charges that AIDS drugs are overpriced--or that their cost is beyond the reach of many AIDS sufferrers, which is not the same thing--have become a common part of the AIDS debate. Yet as the studies I've cited indicate, a good chunk of the vulnerable or infected population is not doing what it should to prevent the spread of the virus. I have a philisophical problem with any group that advocates that taxpayers and drug companies make a financial sacrifice while apparently giving a free pass to a vulnerable segment of the population for indulging in risky behaviour without simple, common-sense precautions--condoms and testing--that could hold the virus in check.
The bottom line is, AIDS is already a highly politicized disease, but the protestors did not help their cause as far as I'm concerned. Voicing their dissent or disagreement is one thing; denying someone else the opportunity to speak under the guise of protest is quite another.
In other boo-ing news, baseball commissioner Bud Selig was booed by fans when he declared the All-Star game a 7-7 tie in the 11th inning. Columnist Tom Verducci maintains that the game, not the ending, is the true fiasco.