The Rev. Jesse Jackson, speaking at an AIDS conference in Philadelphia, yesterday called for more funding for research to find "a cure" for AIDS.
The civil rights activist was particularly critical of pharmaceutical companies that make drugs to treat HIV/AIDS. He urged the hundreds of medical professionals and AIDS activists in his audience at the National Conference on African-Americans and AIDS to buy stock in drug companies and attend stockholders' meetings to push for "a cure," instead of the cocktail of drugs used to treat the AIDS virus.
"They may have an interest in more medicine and less cure," Jackson told the conference at the Sheraton Philadelphia City Center Hotel, which is next door to GlaxoSmithKline's U.S. headquarters. "Ultimately we don't want the medicine. We want the cure."
Since 1987, when the first HIV treatment was approved, the medical arsenal has grown to more than 26 drugs. Although the drugs can have serious side effects, combinations of therapies have turned HIV from a death sentence into a chronic illness.
Jackson did not mention that the conference, now in its ninth year, is partly underwritten by some pharmaceutical companies. GlaxoSmithKline, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer are among the major sponsors of Minority Healthcare Communications Inc. in Fogelsville, Pa., the nonprofit health-education organization that produces the conference.
As he has for years, Jackson also called for well-known African American men to help break the taboo of HIV by publicly taking the oral test for the virus.
He said that if players in Sunday's NBA All-Star Game would "use 30 seconds to swab their cheeks" on television, it would send a powerful message.
"We must use every platform we can for mass education," he said.
More than 1.2 million people in the United States are now living with HIV/AIDS, including 500,000 who are black, experts estimate.
Although blacks represent only 12 percent of the U.S. population, they account for half of all AIDS cases diagnosed in 2005, according to federal data. Blacks also make up a disproportionate share of AIDS-related deaths and HIV diagnoses.