The World Today for July 22, 2016

Need to Know

Elton John Won’t Beat AIDS

Sixteen years after the decision that turned the tide against HIV/AIDS, the once-dreaded disease is easily dismissed as somebody else’s problem.

But as delegates again met for the International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa – the city where it was first decided that antiretroviral drugs should be made available to everyone, regardless of patents – there are signs that apathy and prejudice are hampering further progress.

We’ve come a long way since that all-important Durban conference in 2000. Since AIDS-related deaths peaked at around 2 million in 2005, the number of people dying from the disease has fallen by nearly 50 percent, according to the Economist.

But the decline in new infections has leveled off at around 2.5 million new cases per year for the past five years, according to The Lancet. And among the 2 million-odd adolescents living with HIV worldwide, the number of deaths relating to AIDS have tripled since 2000, according to CNN.

International funding for AIDS declined in 2015, for only the second time since 2002. And in India, the country that makes most of the cheap antiretrovirals responsible for the progress so far, global pharmaceutical companies are gaining ground in the battle to enforce their patents, even if it costs lives.

On Thursday, Britain’s Prince Harry joined Elton John on stage in Durban to warn against apathy, saying, “We now face a new risk, a risk of complacency.”

John, who is openly gay, emphasized the important role of eliminating prejudice against homosexuals in some of the worst-affected countries – where they face harsh prison terms. The $10 million LGBT Fund he launched in November will focus on helping sufferers in such countries.

“We’re going to help all the LGBT people in countries that find it very difficult to be LGBT to know that we are on their side,” Reuters quoted John as saying.

But Prince Harry and Elton John won’t beat AIDS without the help of corporations, governments, civil society organizations and religious orders. The HIV/AIDS epidemic is a developmental challenge, more than a medical one. That means cost structures and policies – the decriminalization of prostitution, for example, as well as homosexuality — are as important as research.

That makes the murky wrestling over drug patent policies in India worth watching.

At the AIDS conference, protesters chanting “Gilead kills” decried the pharma giant’s alleged efforts to milk more money out of its patents by delaying the development of a low-toxicity HIV medication in “a calculated, anticompetitive manner” – though a California court found this month there wasn’t enough evidence to support that claim.

Meanwhile, in India, activists recently raised red flags over the decision to grant Gilead a patent for its blockbuster hepatitis C drug, Sovaldi. It emerged that the law firm representing the company had visited the patent office the day before the ruling. Moreover, the official who’d initially ruled against the claim had been asked to recuse himself to allow a do-over, India’s Caravan magazine reports.

The ruling closely preceded a new patent policy issued by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi this May. India retained the right to issue so-called compulsory licenses to its drug firms, under “emergency” conditions. But Indian commentators argued that in general it indicated a weakening of that provision.

Modi is not to blame, according to Doctors Without Borders. In the run-up to the leader’s address to Congress this June, the aid organization urged him to stand up to US bullying on the subject, saying “It’s outrageous that the US is trying to export its broken intellectual property system to India.”

In Durban, of all places, that should be easy to remember.

Want to Know

No Lone Wolf

Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel was no lone wolf, according to French authorities.

The man who killed 84 people in Nice last week planned the attack over several months and received help from at least five people, the New York Times quoted Paris prosecutor Francois Molins as saying Thursday. But it is still not clear whether Bouhlel or any of his alleged accomplices had any direct contact with members of the so-called Islamic State (IS).

Though Bouhlel was killed at the scene, five alleged accomplices, including four men and one woman, were arrested in the days following the attack. Three men were formally charged as accomplices in “murder by a group with terror links” on Thursday, while another man and a woman were charged with “breaking the law on weapons in relation to a terrorist group,” the BBC reported.

Olympic Terror Foiled

Brazil foiled a “cartoonish” plan for a terrorist attack on the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro next month, arresting 10 members of an “absolutely amateur” group calling itself Defenders of Sharia.

They didn’t get far beyond exchanging messages on social networks before their arrest, and their preparations were apparently limited to a vague plan: “Let’s start training in martial arts, let’s start learning how to shoot,” Slate reports.

Brazil says it has few foreign enemies. But the Olympics make an attractive target, wherever they take place. Brazilian authorities tightened security after the Nice attacks and the posting of threats on social media by another group claiming to be a local chapter of Islamic State.

Brazil will deploy 85,000 police, soldiers and firefighters for the Games, more than double the number that Britain posted in London four years ago.

Another Chinese Fake?

Fielding bad press over its persecution of protesters and journalists in Hong Kong and its saber-rattling in the South China Sea, Beijing unveiled a dubious public relations maneuver on Thursday on what has long been the weakest part of its international image: Tibet.

For the first time in 50 years, the Panchen Lama was allowed to perform an important Buddhist rite called the Kalachakra ritual in China, Reuters cites Chinese state media as saying.

There’s only one problem: Many, if not most, Tibetans decry the monk currently wearing the robe — Gyaltsen Norbu, whom Beijing selected in 1995 – as a fake.

Many Tibetans believe another man, who was selected by the Dalai Lama that same year, to be the real Panchen Lama. But Gedhun Choekyi Nyima was detained by Chinese authorities three days after his selection. His whereabouts unknown for the past 20 years, he’s considered to be one of the world’s longest-serving political prisoners, according to the BBC.


This Land Is My Land

The age of empires, conquest and colonialism may be over. But land grabs are as common as ever.

The big ones are as well known as they are controversial: Russia’s annexing of Crimea, China’s island-building in the South China Sea, Israel’s settlements in Gaza. But a new study compiling all the land grabs since 1918, however small, suggests that the snatching of so-called “gray areas” without any shots being fired is actually on the rise, Foreign Affairs reports.

All told, 105 land grabs have occurred since 1918. An infographic illustrates that such land grabs are happening all over the globe, in dozens of countries, ranging from Cambodia to Paraguay.

In a working paper titled “Land Grabs: Causes, Consequences, and the Evolution of Territorial Conquest,” Harvard post-doc Dan Altman concludes “Land grabs seizing gray areas – places like the Spratly and Senkaku Islands – continue to this day and are now the modern form of territorial conquest. These land grabs often provoke crises but only rarely lead to war.”


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