Haunted by HIV, top WHO scientist says world must do better on Covid

Two decades ago, Soumya Swaminathan watched her HIV-infected patients suffer often horrific and unnecessary deaths. There was a treatment for their disease, but they simply could not afford it.

The World Health Organization’s chief scientist told AFP the inequalities in accessing Covid-19 vaccines today hark back to the late 1990s when she helplessly watched HIV patients in India wither away when drugs were saving lives in the West.

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Effective treatments for HIV were first produced in the mid-1990s, but they carried a prohibitively high price tag of over $10,000 per patient per year.

It would take nearly a decade before they became available to poorer populations.

“I had patients that I was watching die… horrible prolonged deaths when treatments were already available in the West,” Swaminathan said in a recent interview.

“I lost so many patients and children were orphaned. Those images still haunt me.”

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