Editorials Weigh in on Cheaper Drug Access in Developing World
The quest to improve access to cheaper AIDS drugs in sub-Saharan Africa continues to prompt responses from news sources across the United States. The following is a sample:
- Newsday: "Credit the world's pharmaceutical industry for finally slashing prices on anti-HIV drugs in southern Africa. True, it acted in part to polish its image and to protect its patents, but never mind. If it is willing to supply medicine at close to cost in impoverished nations where the epidemic is rampant, then rich nations such as the United States should be willing to keep paying retail prices -- which help underwrite research and development work," a Newsday editorial says. But even with drug discounts, "larger" problems for drug distribution remain. The editorial asks, "First, how can Africa afford drugs supplied even at cost? Second, who will administer the highly complicated regimens to ensure that they are used safely?" The editorial points to Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs' plan announced earlier this week that calls for donor nations to supply about $1.1 billion per year to a global trust fund to purchase drugs for about one million Africans at cost and then distribute them in monitored plans throughout the region. Although this plan is not without flaws, "it should at least ignite a global conversation on how best to stave off a looming holocaust," the editorial concludes (Newsday, 4/6).
- MSNBC.com: Dr. Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, writes in an op-ed, "If drugs are credited with transforming HIV from an almost certain death sentence to a chronic, manageable disease in developed nations, isn't it our moral duty to make sure that people in the poorest countries hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic have access to these same medications?" Maybe not, he says, explaining that drugs "don't get to the heart of the AIDS epidemic." Caplan continues, "Simply throwing drugs at countries that have no educational or public health programs will not slow the spread of the disease. Unless drug distribution is linked to public health campaigns, AIDS will not be stopped. And the high cost of drugs means that eventually, the patience of drug companies and their shareholders for giving the medications away will run out and the media will get bored with the story of people in far-away lands dying in droves for want of medications." Instead, those dying of AIDS in poor nations need a "solid health care infrastructure" where they can receive "a clean bed to lie in and safe water to drink," in addition to donated drugs (Caplan, MSNBC.com, 4/4).
- Washington Post: Although encouraging announcements of large drug price cuts have been issued by drug giants over the last several weeks, a Washington Post editorial says that the "industry needs to move further." While some firms have "yet to offer serious discounts," other announcements "have proved less significant than they seemed," as drug makers attached so many conditions to the discounts that they "made almost no difference." The editorial continues, "Still, the industry is getting to the point where responsibility for the next step will fall to the Bush administration and other leading governments," for even at discounted rates "the cost of AIDS drugs exceeds the ability of poor countries to pay, and the cost of the clinics and training necessary to deliver the drugs makes the challenge even tougher" (Washington Post, 4/2).