Jewish World Review Nov. 30, 2004 / 17 Kislev 5765
Lewis A. Fein
Doctors Without Morals
Someone needs to issue police tape across the perimeter of the United Nations, arguably the world's most morally confused and politically dangerous institution. The building's shameful policies - its attacks against Western freedom and Jewish liberty, its assaults against common sense and simple decency - are, sadly, too numerous to list. But the group's arrogance and incompetence now destroy lives in a different though equally monstrous way: confronted with a killer of epidemic proportions and philosophical urgency - the crisis of AIDS - the UN, alongside other non-governmental organizations (including Doctors Without Borders), seems to have mixed populist ignorance with questionable science. The widespread use of inferior generic drugs in Africa and elsewhere - in regions where AIDS is an unnecessary killer of young and old, of humble citizens and sickly children, of all who must confront poverty, famine and disease - is absolutely outrageous. The drugs purportedly do not work, and this lackluster battle threatens to strengthen the ferocity of the AIDS virus itself.
To be clear: I am not an opponent of generic drugs, nor am I a combatant against affordable and effective medical treatment. I am, however, a foe of any product that - beside the obviously political nature of its popularity, and the inherently corrupt status of its adherents - needlessly costs the lives of the innocent. In Africa, a policy of this sort is worse than even the most brutal colonialism or the most repugnant racism. Why? Because the former policies, evil and resilient though they were, did not automatically consign millions to a vast graveyard of anonymity and neglect. Yet, a willfully executed plan that gives the sickly and impoverished bad medicine will, indeed, send these people to an early death. Hence the real effect of Doctors Without Borders is to reclassify the group as Doctors Without Morals -- an organization whose own zealotry obscures its loathsome use of generic drugs that, according to the analysis of many professionals, do not work.
The specific drugs in question are part of a larger scandal, a plague caused by Ranbaxy, an Indian manufacturer of generic drugs. In fact, the company now admits - because its own actions to recall its product from the market prove - many of these generic drugs do not adequately treat the AIDS virus. The outrage here is nonetheless one of respect, an acknowledgment that Africans deserve the same rights as Americans, that race must dissolve before the greater fight against a global killer.
Another variable in this sad equation - a quantity that should not automatically bear the guilt of the genuinely culpable - is the Salvation Army. And, as someone who strongly supports this group's work on behalf of the poor and needy right here in the United States, I want my admiration for this organization to be known and beyond dispute. Simply stated, we should all enlist as soldiers in this grand militia of compassion and collective decency. None of which should prevent us, as friends and financial benefactors of this great organization, from reporting the truth.
I fear that the Salvation Army's distribution of these drugs in Africa could undermine the group's highly coveted reputation. I will not immediately condemn this organization, because - as a friend and as a donor - I want the Salvation Army to succeed. But the use of these inferior AIDS drugs, which Doctors Without Borders apparently accepts, is totally wrong. I implore the Salvation Army to denounce this policy, and for all other respectable institutions of goodwill to do likewise.
The war against AIDS is a global struggle, a fight for the lives of all individuals. We must never cede ground to this enemy out of fear or greed, out of political rage or economic selfishness. Most importantly, we must not allow ineffective drugs to circulate as false hope among the dispossessed. Generic drugs are cheap and usually highly effective, a democratizing force for millions worldwide. But there is a difference between drugs that work and drugs that kill. To the sick and the hopeful - to all who seek salvation from this great scourge - I have these plain words to the blind and the stubborn: Fight AIDS with knowledge and science, not sugar pills and press releases!
JWR contributor Lewis A. Fein is a writer and Internet entrepreneur in Los Angeles. Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, Lewis A. Fein