Outside of armed conflict, victims sacrificed to the creation of the political order - local, national or international - are often hidden from the sight of ordinary people. Blatant violence is suited to the conquest and defense of power. Its use on a daily basis, however, is more likely to cover up its deadly character.
For those condemned in this daily fashion, the sentence does not take the spectacular shape of violent death; rather it comes in a guise so perfectly integrated into the social landscape as to become invisible - that of extinction through deprivation of the very necessities of life (water, food, energy, medical care and shelter).
Far from denying the existence of these victims, their proponents explain them away by saying that "you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs." In the end, the logic of a recipe serves to justify the untimely disappearance of part of humanity.
Skin color, religious belief or political affiliation may lead to execution along the side of a road in a country at war.
But for our hidden victims, the essential does not reside in such overt stigma that enable a society to distinguish those who can live from those who might - or must - die.
For the majority of the inhabitants of our planet, survival depends instead on whether they can get treatment for infectious diseases. Clearly, not everybody can be saved - the ideal society is not of this world.
But how many more could be, with even a modicum of political will? This is the crux of the matter. This is the question we put to doctors, the pharmaceutical industry and, especially, politicians.
According to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), 3 million people die of AIDS each year, while about 300,000 are victims of war. In other words, AIDS kills ten times as many people as war. And AIDS-related deaths are only a fraction of yearly deaths due to the most lethal infectious diseases, nearly 15 million deaths in 2001, according to the WHO's The World Health Report 2002. Many of these are deaths from diseases which have either preventive (vaccines) or curative (antimicrobial) treatments.
The very first treatments capable of prolonging the lives of patients whose immune systems were compromised by the AIDS virus, even those who were at death's door, appeared in the mid-1990s. In 2000, the price of these drugs ran to several thousand dollars a year per patient, thus making them inaccessible to the majority of AIDS sufferers. The reason behind this high price was not due to especially high production costs; indeed, under pressure from lobbying campaigns, the price of these vital medicines has been divided by 30 in the space of two years, without in any way pushing the pharmaceutical sector to the brink of bankruptcy.
If treatments exist, why aren't they being used? Why has so little international attention been devoted, until recently that is, to the survival of millions of people? Driven into a corner by the dedicated campaigning of patient and caregiver organizations, Andrew Natsios, head of the US Agency for International Development, responded with a diatribe worthy of Gobineau, the 19th century advocate of European racial supremacy. Africans, he said, "don't know what Western time is. You have to take these (AIDS) drugs a certain number of hours each day, or they don't work. Many people in Africa have never seen a clock or a watch their entire lives. And if you say, one o'clock in the afternoon, they do not know what you are talking about."
Clearly, not everybody can be saved - the ideal society is not of this world. But how many more could be, with even a modicum of political will? This is the crux of the matter. This is the question we put to doctors, the pharmaceutical industry and, especially, politicians.