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Patents, Pills, and the Press

The Rise and Fall of the Global HIV/AIDS Medicines Crisis in the News


Thomas Owen

HIV/AIDS is a global health crisis of unprecedented proportions. Afflicting millions worldwide, its social, political, economic, and ethical dimensions have rendered explicit the vast inequalities of our «negatively globalized planet». Since the late 1990s, a major feature of the crisis has been the dispute over intellectual property protection and medicines access.
In this book, Thomas Owen examines the mediatization of this dispute. Weaving together contemporary media theory and interdisciplinary research with computer-assisted news analysis and interviews with journalists and civil society campaigners, the book illuminates the intersecting constitutive relationships between global crises, global governance, and global media. In a context of changing media technologies, logics, and practices, this book observes where the mediatized conflict surrounding global medicines access has at times consolidated elite political economic power, and at other times provided civil society campaigners their greatest opportunities for global social change.
With an interdisciplinary approach, this book is suitable for courses on global media communication and global journalism, as well as advanced undergraduate and postgraduate courses in public health communication, political communication, social movement studies, and international relations.
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Chapter 3. Contested Crisis Definitions: Patents vs. Poverty


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Patents vs. Poverty

Can the pharmaceutical industry inflict any more damage upon its ailing public image? Well, how about suing Nelson Mandela?

—Wall Street Journal (Cooper, Zimmerman, &McGinley, 2 March 2001, p. A1)


Once HIV/AIDS medicines access and patent protection concerns had entered the mainstream news agenda, multiple developments over late-1999 and early-2001 ensured they remained there. In January 2000, the UN Security Council discussed AIDS in Africa as a human security issue—the first time a health topic had been considered by the Council (UNAIDS, 2008b). In July 2000, the 13th International AIDS Conference was held in Durban, South Africa—its first time in a majority world country (UNAIDS, 2008b). In April 2001, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan suggested the creation of an international donor fund to address infectious diseases—what would eventually become the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (UNAIDS, 2008b). Meanwhile five Big Pharma companies announced an ambitious medicines access plan in May 2000,1 and the “Access to Medicines” ← 57 | 58 → campaign continued to expand—including further CSOs from across the majority and minority worlds.

Of all developments, however, the one to attract the most media attention was the lawsuit between the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association (PMA) and the South African government. When the PMA lawsuit went to court in March and April 2001 the trial dates constituted the highest levels...

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