Canada’s National Post Features Dualing Op-Eds Regarding Pros, Cons of South African Drug Trial Settlement
Robert Goldberg's Wall Street Journal editorial "Fight AIDS in Africa With Reason, Not Rhetoric," is an "ill-informed opinion piece" that misses several important pieces of information, Dr. Anne-Valerie Kaninda, a medical adviser with Doctors Without Borders' Access to Essential Medicines Campaign, writes in an op-ed in Canada's National Post. While Goldberg, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, called the recent abandonment of the lawsuit filed by 39 drug giants against South Africa a "tragedy" because it will inhibit further research and development of AIDS drugs. However, Kaninda asks, "But for whom exactly is it a tragedy? Certainly not the 4.7 million HIV-positive South Africans currently facing almost certain death because they cannot afford the antiretroviral medicines that have turned HIV/AIDS into a manageable illness in the United States and Europe." She calls the case a "victory for the nearly 30 million other people in the developing world living with HIV. Armed with a newfound understanding of international trade law and boosted by the groundswell of international public support that the South African case has generated, AIDS activists can now demand that their own governments do everything possible to make treatment available." Kaninda says that Goldberg "overlooks the fact that research and development for many antiretrovirals was largely financed by the public sector. This, together with the reality that Africa represents little more than 1% of the worldwide drug market, ensures that companies can prosper and continue research and development into new AIDS drugs and vaccines even if drug prices are lower in poor countries." Kaninda concludes, "It is time to stop using lack of infrastructure, threats to drug company profits, and the cost-effectiveness of prevention alone as excuses for allowing thousands of people to die each day of a treatable disease. The message from South Africa is loud and clear: People with AIDS will no longer wait in silence to die" (Kaninda, National Post, 5/10).
In an accompanying op-ed, Goldberg writes that Kaninda "unfortunately [provides] more evidence in support of my original point: For many AIDS activists ... the real virus isn't HIV, it's capitalism and the profits which support research and development of the next generation of AIDS drugs and -- one hopes -- a vaccine against the disease." Goldberg writes that Kaninda's statement that "the end of the court case removes the barriers preventing the South African government from securing cheaper AIDS drugs" is "untrue." Bristol-Myers Squibb "never had a patent" on AIDS drugs in South Africa, he says, nor has Merck had a patent on the antiretroviral drug Crixivan there. Goldberg also disputes Kaninda's statement that the public sector financed most of the research and development for many anti-AIDS drugs, pointing out that a private firm did the clinical trial work to determine the efficacy and safety of AZT in humans, and private companies like Merck and Abbott discovered and developed "the current generation of nucleoside drugs." He continues, "None of these breakthroughs would be possible under the shaky sort of patent protection Dr. Kaninda envisions," adding, "even if all the HIV drugs needed to treat every person with AIDS in Africa were available for free, it would be difficult and even dangerous to administer them." Goldberg concludes, "If people in Africa continue to die in silence, it will not be due to the price of HIV drugs. It will be due, in part, to policies such as those Dr. Kaninda pushes that make it unprofitable and harder to develop and distribute a vaccine that can control or prevent the eruption of AIDS once and for all" (Goldberg, National Post, 5/10).