Monday, October 31, 2011

Gregg Gonsalves on Civil Society; But is it Civil Enough?

In the past, I have had reason to disagree with Gregg Gonsalves, the director of the International [HIV/AIDS] Treatment Preparedness Coalition. I realize that much of what he says applies to the Western, mainly US context. But I am somewhat behind his contention that the global food industry and other big business sectors are not part of civil society, as claimed by the Global Business Coalition for Health (GBCHealth).

The question was asked "Should the industries that profit from unhealthy products be viewed as trusted partners and have a seat at the table during public health negotiations?" and the GBCHealth's answer is yes, that "Companies must have a place at the tables where their future is discussed." There's more of this contemptible, self-serving nonsense but I realize some people reading this blog may already be sick enough.

Industries such as big tobacco, big pharma, the massive food industry, genetically modified organisms and others, will stoop to anything that increases their profits and do nothing that threatens their profits in any way. This does not make them part of civil society, it makes them the polar opposite of civil society. To claim that they should have a stake in the discussions is like claiming that the entire military-industrial complex is part of civil society.

While there are many parties working in and around the HIV industry, many of whom probably do fit into the category of civil society, whose work does little more than increase the dependence of sick people on ever increasing quantities of drugs and nothing at all to prevent sickness in those who are still healthy, Gonsalves seems to have his heart in the right place, though just about (for more about ever increasing dependence on drugs, see my Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis blog).

Actually, even even GBCHealth doesn't try to argue that big tobacco is part of civil society. But they do have the cheek to imply that the food industry has played a part in reducing salt and unsaturated fats, or that they will play their part some day. And they argue that if the industry doesn't play a part, who will? Indeed. And that's exactly why they are not a part of civil society.

Gonsalves objects most strongly to the GBCHealth's use of the struggle for treatment rights for HIV positive people in wealthy countries as supporting the point they are making. All the pharmaceutical industry did, and continues to do, is keep their profit margins high and keep increasing the quantities of drugs sold every year. They have even succeeded in persuading Western governments to divert most HIV related funding to the purchase of drugs to the extent that there is little left for preventing HIV.

I am only somewhat behind Gonsalves' contention because there are many parties who are considered, and not just by themselves, to be part of civil society, for example the Gates Foundation and other 'philanthropic' bodies, certain NGOs, much of the UN and various others, who use their 'concern' about HIV and other issues as a platform for promoting their favorite commercial interests. Perhaps civil society itself is already contaminated enough for big business to feel they should also be included?


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