Public Responds to AIDS Drug Discounts for Africa in Editorials, Op-Eds
Editorial boards and opinion writers across the country continue to weigh in on the latest round of AIDS drug price reductions being offered by major pharmaceutical companies in Africa. The following is a sample of what's being said:
- Boston Globe: "While news reports concentrate on lowering drug prices to treat HIV/AIDS in Africa, the rug is being pulled from under the most important means of preventing its spread in the first place: the lowly condom," Loretta McLaughlin, a senior fellow at the Harvard AIDS Institute, writes in a Boston Globe op-ed. President Bush's reinstatement of the "Mexico City policy," which bars federal aid from going to international family planning groups that use their own funds to promote or provide abortion, has resulted in an "assault on the availability of condoms," she continues. It is "largely" through local family planning centers that free condoms, along with "rigorous anti-HIV/AIDS advice," are distributed, she writes. Three countries -- Senegal, Uganda and Thailand -- that have reduced their HIV transmission rates have "relied on massive distribution of free condoms by local family planning clinics," she writes. Cutting funds to these groups has the potential for "dire consequences," as reduced condom availability is not only "shortsighted," it is "madness," McLaughlin writes. Merely "flooding" Africa with antiretroviral medications would be a "devastating disservice, because misuse of the drugs would quickly create untreatable, drug-resistant strains of the virus," she continues. Withholding "any means of preventing" HIV transmission, is "not acceptable," she concludes (McLaughlin, Boston Globe, 3/29).
- Roanoke Times & World News: "As a public-health practioner ... I would be remiss if I did not point out the flaw in focusing on drugs as an acceptable means to restore health to a dying [African] population," Molly O'Dell, director of the Alleghany/Roanoke, Va., City Health District, writes in a Roanoke Times & World News op-ed, adding, "Drugs without a reliable public-health infrastructure will lead to disappointment and, potentially, to drug-resistant strains" of HIV. She cites the prevalence of tuberculosis as one example of a situation where "the introduction of unorganized drug therapy to developing nations ... resulted in multidrug-resistant" organisms. O'Dell also notes that the drug chloroquine was once effective in treating and preventing malaria, but due to "erratic" supplies of medicine because of wars, political upheaval and economic instability, drug-resistant malaria has emerged. It is "good" for Americans to "advocate" relief in Africa, but Americans must "be responsible and support the creation of appropriate economic-development initiatives and sound public-health infrastructures," she concludes (O'Dell, Roanoke Times & World News, 3/28).
- USA Today: "Africa's fate hinges on vanquishing the AIDS pandemic," Mark Mathabane, a South African lecturer and author, writes in a USA Today op-ed. He writes that drug companies' statements "that poor education, lack of infrastructure and inadequate health services are greater barriers [to AIDS drugs] than price" are "not entirely true." Mathabane notes that Doctors Without Borders said last year that a township near Cape Town had "50,000 HIV-positive residents who could have benefitted from treatment, yet not one could afford" the therapy. AIDS drugs have been shown to "not only" save lives, but to be cost-effective as well, he writes, citing two recent studies in the New England Journal of Medicine. But even at reduced prices, most Africans cannot afford the therapy, Mathabane writes. Therefore, wealthy nations "must play a role in offsetting the cost," he concludes (Mathabane, USA Today, 3/27).
- Hartford Courant: "Though responding only after their hands were forced, the major drug manufacturers deserve praise," a Hartford Courant editorial states. Drug research and development is expensive, and pharmaceutical corporations are not "charitable institutions," the editorial continues. Some drug makers may "mistake[nly]" be "tempted to recoup their losses in Africa" by raising domestic prices. But many HIV-positive Americans are also "too poor" to be able to afford their medications without assistance, so "[a]sking them to pay even more would make a mockery of the generous gestures made to Africa's sufferers," the editorial concludes (Hartford Courant, 3/26).
- Chicago Tribune: "Whatever the verdict [in the lawsuit against South Africa's 1997 Medicines Control Act], it will not be a victory for the infected citizens of South Africa or the infected peoples of sub-Saharan Africa for two reasons," Richard Reznick writes in a Chicago Tribune "Voice of the People" letter. First, South Africa's health care system is "not yet equipped to handle the responsibility that goes along with the widespread distribution and use of powerful HIV drugs," he writes. Second, discounted drugs do "nothing to lessen the considerable social stigmas in sub-Saharan Africa" surrounding HIV/AIDS. "As long as infected individuals are treated as outcasts, many will remain silent and unwilling to openly accept drug therapy," Reznick continues. Instead of "fighting over drugs," the South African government and the drug companies "should combine their resources and direct their united effort against the real enemy," he concludes (Reznick, Chicago Tribune, 3/23).