HIV Treatment Advances and the Obstacles of Capitalist Oppression and Exploitation

On the last July 7th, researches of the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp) have released the results of a very promising study about the treatment of HIV, the virus whose infection, in its last stage, can cause the “Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome”, or AIDS.
By Pedro Henrique Ferreira – PSTU Youth and National LGBT Bureau

The result has an important significance for the fight against the virus and brings hope to people who live with HIV, since, for the first time in the world, a patient treated with specific medication reached the stage of remission (that is, no more signs of the disease and/or virus presence were registered)> Two patients had been cured before, but the treatment was based on bone marrow transplants, and the donor had a rare mutation which rendered him resistant to the virus.
As infectologist Ricardo Sobhie Diaz Apesar, the research coordinator, said in an interview to Unifesp’s website, it is too soon to talk about a “cure”; however, the results confirm that such a thing is possible. According to him, the next step will be, after a series of exams on this patient and on other six that are being studied, “suspending all medication on one of them and accompanying how his organism will react throughout the months, or even years (…) If time shows us that the virus does not return, we will, then, indeed be able to talk about a cure”.
This is certainly news to be celebrated by everyone, particularly those who have HIV (read the interview with our militant Felipe Fernandes), as well as an example of the importance of scientific study and research, especially on public institutions. However, before we present some more details of the study itself, we must remember what scientists are fighting against.

In the world, numbers of a still silenced genocide

To have an idea of what we are talking about, it is important that we know some numbers given both by Unaids (the UN organ dedicated to the subject) as well as the Epidemiological bulletin Boletim epidemiológico HIV/AIDS 2019, of the Brazilian government.
Since the beginning of the epidemic, in the early 80’s, HIV has contaminated, around the world, some 75 million people (a number that can reach 98 million, considering the under-notifications). It is calculated that, in the same period, 32 million (or 43 million) have died due to diseases provoked by Aids; in 2018, there were 770 thousand deaths.
Today, there are between 38 million and 44 million people living with HIV, but only around 25 million have access to antiretroviral therapy; that is, the combination of medications which stops the multiplication of HIV in the organism, allowing the bearer to control its evolution.
These numbers hide a reality which is constant in our world: HIV has as its main ally capitalist exploitation, which denies even the basic right to treatment and prevention to 19 million HIV-positive people, overwhelmingly poor workers.
It is also important to highlight that, quite unlike the “gay cancer” hoax (though it still contaminates the minds of many, particularly of figures like Bolsonaro), the virus manifests itself in absolutely every sector of the populace, age age ranges, socioeconomic conditions, gender identities or sexual orientations, although, worldwide, 54% of the new cases are amongst drug users, homosexuals, transgenders, sex workers and prisoners.
The fact is that, evidently, the combination of lack to access to information and to health services, as always, makes the epidemic even more deadly among the most exploited and most oppressed. To mention a single piece of data, in Sub-Saharan Africa, four in each five new infections between teenagers aged 15-19 occur in girls.

On Brazil, it is also a matter of race and class

In our country, it is estimated that, today, 900.000 people live with the HIV. However, since the beginning of the epidemic in the 80s until December 31, 2018, 338.905 deaths in Brazil were notified as having HIV/Aids as their basic cause. And, sadly, according to Unaids and running counter to the world tendency, between 2010 and 2018 there was an increase (21%) in the number of new infections, and, in the last 5 years, the country registers an average of 39.000 new cases of Aids.
And the social profile of the epidemic follows the same perverse logic of a country whose history is thoroughly blended with racial oppression. According to the Notifiable Diseases Information System (SINAN, which collects data generated by the Epidemiological Vigilance System), among the new cases registered between 2007 and June 2019, between men, 42,6% were with Whites and 48,1% with Blacks (adding up those who declare themselves Black and Mixed).
Among women, the difference is even greater: 37,2% were White and 53,6% were Black. And when we analyze the cases in which the virus evolves towards Aids the numbers reveal even better how oppression leverages the epidemic. In the same period, a drop of 20% was observed between Whites, while among Blacks it was of only 1%, and, terrifyingly, among indigenous Brazilians, there was an increase of 100%.
Inescapably, the deadly cases follow the same profile. Among the deaths reported in 2018, 58,9% were Blacks and 39,5% were Whites, with Black women dying more than Black men: 61,5% against 59%. Which, we insist, has nothing to do with “traits” of this part of the population, as we discuss below, but the social and economic place of Blacks in Brazil.

Advances of science, obstacles of the system

The volunteer patients which took part in the research went through a treatment which combined new antiviral medications (known as the “cocktail”. Among the 30 volunteers, as we mentioned in the beginning, one has entered remission, that is, the specific exams no longer identify the virus or immunologic marks of its presence in the organism.
Although the cure can still take many years to be found, these new studies certainly mean an important advance and are the result of a long process in the search for a treatment or a cure to a disease which, at first, implied a rapid development of all signs and symptoms of immunodeficiency and drastically reduced the life expectancy of the bearers of the virus.
Since then, various treatment protocols were developed and are effective both for the control of the infection and for postponing or avoiding the development of the immunodeficiency. And thanks to the constant, and many times, radical struggles of those that, in the beginning of the epidemic, were stigmatized as “risk groups” (particularly LGBTs), not only was there an advance in the production of medications, but also, in many countries, in its distribution without cost through the healthcare network.
However, as we have seen, we are extremely far from an ideal situation even in this aspect. And it is not by chance that, as the data shows, the smaller the income and bigger the marginalization, the bigger the incidence of the virus. This happens exactly due to the lack of access to the means of prevention, to the basic healthcare services and to information on the subject.
To that, we must add the fact that, even today, in the attempt to justify these inequalities in the incidence and prevalence of the virus, governments and institutions continue preaching prejudiced, oppressive and pseudo-scientific theories which try to point specific social groups (be they national, racial, of gender identity or sexual orientation) as more prone to contracting and disseminating the virus.

The interests of the rich and powerful in HIV

These “theories” try to hide the real reason for that data: the deep social-economic inequality of capitalism, the total lack of minimal rights and the oppression to which are subjected, for example, women, Black people and LGBTs of the working class.
Science, as well as all human practices in this society, are under the influence and control of capital. Scientific discoveries such as that of Unifesp are rare and demonstrate the need for public investment in scientific research which make it possible that we advance in the search for the cure.
Large pharmaceutical conglomerates control large parts of medicine research and production, profiting from the disease and death of the working class and of its most oppressed sectors. To have an idea, for those who do not have free access to specific drugs for HIV control, a single ampoule of Imunoglobulin (which should be taken many times by some patients) costs around R$ 920,00 (around 153 US dollars).
Not only it has absolute control of the treatment; the pharmaceutical industry, today, heads a large campaign for the use of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) as the priority prevention method against HIV infection. This measure is, in practice, the use of several antiretroviral drugs by people which are not infected, and uses prejudice, LGBTphobic ideas of “risk groups” under the new name of “key population”.
In Brazil, the policy of the Bolsonaro/Mourão administration is that of dismantling the SUS (the public health system) and the specific HIV combat and prevention programs. This policy can be summed up by Bolsonaro’s statement, that HIV bearers mean “an expense for all Brazilians”.
Thus, in the struggle for a cure for HIV, we can also not trust the bourgeoisie or its governments, which place profit and “economic health” before the life of workers. We must demand a bigger budget for scientists and researchers of public universities and laboratories.
The battle for the cure (and, until we reach it, for dignified living conditions for HIV bearers) must also be a struggle against capitalism. To ensure the right to public, universal, free, quality health, we must build a socialist society, where workers have their needs catered to, and where their lives are worth more than profit!

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