Berkeley - Students from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law (Boalt Hall) are among the individuals and groups from across the world meeting in Barcelona, Spain this week, hoping to combat HIV/AIDS by sharing vital information and research.
The Boalt Hall contingent consists of two law students, a faculty member and an attorney from an affiliated clinical program. The group is among a select number of individuals and organizations allowed formally to present their work at the XIV International AIDS Conference.
The students are involved in the AIDS Lanka program, a project of the East Bay Community Law Center, an affiliate of the law school; the law school's International Human Rights Law Clinic; and the law school's Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic. The goal of the project is straightforward: increase access in Sri Lanka to HIV/AIDS drugs.
Experts say Sri Lanka is especially vulnerable to an AIDS epidemic for many reasons including its close proximity to India (which is second only to sub-Saharan African in the number of HIV/AIDS cases), its thriving sex trade industry, widespread poverty and large migrant workers population.
Boalt Hall students, faculty and local attorneys have been working with the AIDS Coalition, a non-governmental organization based in Sri Lanka, and with the government of Sri Lanka to help the government there find ways to provide free HIV/AIDS drugs to those who cannot afford them.
Last April, law students and attorneys furnished the Sri Lankan government with a legal memorandum that suggested methods to address the lack of access to HIV medications, including negotiating with drug manufacturers for reasonable prices for AIDS drugs. The document also appealed to the government on moral grounds (the daily deaths attributed to lack of access to mediation) and practical grounds (an AIDS epidemic would threaten not only the health of the Sri Lankan population but the country's economic health as well).
So far, the law school reports that its legal memorandum has been well received by the Sri Lankan government and the law school has sent a copy of the document to the World Bank, which could provide funds to help the Sri Lankan government pay for the drugs.
"We approached this as collaborators with the government, not as adversaries," said law professor Laurel Fletcher. "I think what this demonstrates is oftentimes the most successful creative legal solutions aren't adversarial."
If the Sri Lankan government moves quickly to provide widespread access to life-saving HIV/AIDS drugs and an epidemic is thwarted, said Manel Kappagoda with the East Bay Community Law Center, Sri Lanka will be a leader in the fight against HIV in the Asia region. It is key, she said, that leaders understand the importance of access to treatment not only from a scientific standpoint but also from a human rights standpoint.
For more information on the international AIDS conference go to: www.aids2002.com.