Thinking back to press coverage of past AIDS conferences, I don’t hear “AIDS activist” and “Voice of Reason” echoing through the same sentence all that often. So I was particularly pleased to read In defence of rational AIDS activism, an exceedingly sensible piece from uber-activists Nathan Geffen and Gregg Gonsalves.
Geffen and Gonsalves take fellow activists to task for what they call “pharmanoia”, a phrase they borrow from another perennial voice of reason, Science reporter Jon Cohen. They single out ACT UP Paris for irrational attacks on researchers conducting potentially important drug and prevention technology trials. It is not in anyone’s interest to discourage scientists (even scientists who take the Big Pharma shilling) from developing and trying out new approaches to preventing HIV and caring for those infected. I speculated earlier that downward pressure on drug prices might have the same effect for some. Activists have an important role in keeping researchers as well as drug companies honest, as Geffen and Gonsalves point out in their article, published in the Journal of the Southern African HIV Clinicians Society:
“Scientific research is the reason that technology exists that renders HIV infection a chronic lifelong infection, as opposed to the death sentence it used to be. The significant investment into that research and the high quality with which most of it has been conducted is in large part due to the efforts of activism. As activists we should not allow that success story to be undone by irrational behaviour. The consequences will be deadly.”
Harassing researchers and pharmaceutical companies on the basis of unsubstantiated reports of amorphous wrongdoing will prove a disincentive even to those who are not motivated by profit. In the process, rational, well-informed activists get tarred with the brush of the loony fringe. That’s not good for anyone.