Drug Companies Should Relax Patents on HIV/AIDS Treatments, Pediatric AIDS Foundation Chair David Kessler Says
Multinational drug companies should relax patents on their HIV/AIDS medications and provide technical assistance to those countries hit hardest by the pandemic so they can manufacture the treatments themselves, David Kessler, chair of the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, current dean of the Yale University School of Medicine and former FDA commissioner, says in an NPR "Morning Edition" commentary today. Kessler states that although some pharmaceutical companies have reduced the cost of their HIV/AIDS medications by as much as 90%, "even at reduced prices these drug regimens are still too expensive for many African countries to afford" and less than 1% of HIV-positive Africans are receiving treatment. "It's more than governments can afford. It's beyond what foundations can pay as well. Drugs must be available at truly marginal cost, and this must be done quickly," Kessler says. While Kessler states that he does not expect drug companies to provide medicines "out of the goodness of their hearts," he says that "perhaps they will do it out of self-interest," as they have "much to lose as the international community grows restless." According to Kessler, the entire patent protection system allowing drug pricing controls is at stake, and if drug companies want the "power of pricing their products, they must bend for a true international crisis." Kessler "commend[s]" President Bush for his recent pledge of increased funding to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean but says "it won't be enough." Kessler says that although Bush's initiative, together with spending by the United Nations and private international businesses, can help absorb some costs, "ultimately" it is the drug companies that control the rights to and the costs of HIV/AIDS treatments. Kessler states that he observed on his recent visit to a pediatric AIDS clinic in Soweto, South Africa, that nevarapine is now "widely available" in the country and "real headway is being made" in preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission. However, nevarapine "does nothing" for the mother's health, he says, adding that as a pediatrician, he has focused his career on "saving the children." However, "that strategy alone is a mistake," Kessler states, adding, "To save the next generation, we also need to save their mothers and fathers. That's what people in South Africa are asking for." Kessler concludes that "saving lives in South Africa and around the globe may be the best way for the pharmaceutical industry to save itself" (Kessler, "Morning Edition," NPR, 2/19). The full segment will be available online in RealPlayer and Windows Media after noon ET.This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.