New York Times Examines Charity That Collects AIDS Drugs for the Poor
The New York Times on Sunday profiled Aid for AIDS, a New York City-based charity that collects donated AIDS drugs in the United States and Canada and distributes them to people in need of the medicines in several countries. Aid for AIDS gathers medicine from social workers, doctors and people with HIV who have either stopped taking a certain medicine, changed prescriptions or died. The drugs are inspected -- the group does not accept unsealed packages of liquid medication and checks each tablet to ensure it has the proper imprint -- and then sent overseas to HIV-positive people "who would not otherwise have access to medications." Recipients of the medicines must have a T-cell count of less than 250 cells/mm3 and must have blood tests conducted every six months to ensure that they are adhering to treatment. Jesus Aguais, founder of Aid for AIDS, said, "With an overhead of just $150,000, we sent over $3.5 million worth of AIDS medication last year. Now a lot of people have their eye on us," adding that the group currently sends medicine to more than 300 people around the world. In addition to providing AIDS medication, Aid for AIDS helps people overseas find local health care and pays for medicine recipients' blood tests.
UNAIDS and the World Bank have applauded the group's efforts, but the FDA says that the organization is working in "a legal gray area." The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act prohibits delivery or receipt of drugs from any source other than the manufacturer, processor, packager or deliverer. "There is no quality assurance once the medication has left the pharmacy. It's a humanitarian program, but there is no guarantee of the drugs' integrity," Richard Klein, director of the FDA's HIV/AIDS program, said. The FDA has not received any reports of tainted or expired drugs coming through Aid for AIDS and has "not tried to stop its work," the Times reports. Paul O'Dwyer, a lawyer who represents Aid for AIDS, said that the organization's operations do not violate the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. Aid for AIDS keeps a three-month supply of drugs in stock for each person enrolled in the program. The group says the waiting list for medicines is long because it still only has limited supplies of drugs (Holland, New York Times, 12/15).