Look Back in Anger: Hemophilia, Rights, and AIDS

Look Back in Anger: Hemophilia, Rights, and AIDS

On a warm afternoon in the autumn of 1996, a limousine pulled up at the gates of the Bayer AG plant in Berkeley, California, and a handful of young men piled out of the car, megaphones to the ready. “We are here to take your name away!” they shouted. “I.G. Farben, I.G. Farben, Zyklon B, Zyklon B”—an unsubtle reference to the lethal gas manufactured by the German pharmaceutical house and used to chilling effect in the Holocaust—”four thousand dead, four thousand dead, four thousand dead.” A cameraman recorded the scene, preparing “great source tape” for television stations to air.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, similar “zaps” were regularly launched by AIDS activists against drug companies. Then, the demonstrators were mainly young gay men, members of ACT-UP, protesting the pricing practices of pharmaceutical houses that made AZT and other drugs unaffordable to many people with AIDS. Though the focus of the 1996 protest remained AIDS, the protesters were hemophiliacs, not homosexuals. A few years earlier, they would have praised the drug company for manufacturing Factor VIII, the blood-clotting concentrate that enabled them to lead normal lives, but this lifeline had proved to be the source of HIV contamination. Consequently, more than half of those with severe or moderate hemophilia were infected with the deadly virus; and, since many nations relied on U.S. suppliers for blood-clotting products, similar calamities were reported not just in the United States but across the globe.

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Lima