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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 5. The “Golden Window” and the “Unsustainable Stalemate”


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Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.

—Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968)

From the “Access to Medicines” campaign’s point of view, the years immediately following the 2001 PMA trial were marked by good news and bad news. The good news: HIV/AIDS medicines access in the majority world began to dramatically increase. The bad news: the increases were enacted in such a way that the underlying structural impediments to sustained medicines access remained relatively unchanged. In the first case, the primary goal of the campaign for greater ARV access was achieved. In the second, however, the preferred method of increasing access—enhanced majority world self-determination to participate in the global generic ARV market—was not achieved. The combined impact of these developments was an astounding success in global public health built upon an unsustainable foundation of philanthropy over self-governance.

With the events of 2001 indelibly constituting HIV/AIDS as a “global crisis” in the mainstream media, global institutional elites began to more concertedly address the pandemic. In the next few years, HIV/AIDS funding for ← 107 | 108 → the majority world dramatically rose, medicines prices dramatically fell, drug discounts became commonplace, and millions more people began to receive antiretroviral treatment. Generic medicines were a key component in this process, in particular as major funders began purchasing them following the...

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