‘Indifferent Politicians’ Preventing Access to Antiretroviral Drugs in Africa, Opinion Piece Says
AIDS advocates' "moral outrage" over the inaccessibility of antiretroviral drugs should be directed "not at greedy drug companies, but at indifferent politicians in both rich and developing countries who have failed to come up with the money and legal framework" to make HIV/AIDS drugs widely available in developing nations, columnist Steven Pearlstein writes in a Washington Post opinion piece. Although the majority of HIV-positive individuals worldwide live in Africa, the cost of antiretroviral drugs and the lack of a supporting medical infrastructure have prevented access to the drugs for most HIV-positive Africans, Pearlstein says. Last year, "[a]fter getting beat up pretty badly in the press," pharmaceutical companies that manufacture antiretroviral drugs agreed to waive their patent rights to allow the world's poorest nations to purchase cheaper, generic versions of the drugs, Pearlstein states. However, instead of acting "quickly to seal the deal and move ahead with production and distribution," developing nations -- under the "guise of rescuing Africans from the scourge of AIDS" -- began to "see the chance" to insist that drug firms relinquish the patent rights to all of their drugs, according to Pearlstein. Although U.S. trade negotiators rejected the demand, their "offers to compromise by widening the circle of exempted drugs and countries have come to naught," he writes. Pearlstein concludes, "The trick is to persuade rich countries to finally come up with the money and mechanism" to buy antiretroviral drugs for the "desperately poor" without "screwing up the economics" of the pharmaceutical industry (Pearlstein, Washington Post, 7/4).
Increased Access Stopping Development of New Drugs
If incentives are not provided for pharmaceutical companies to balance out generic competition and the declining profitability of antiretroviral drug development and production, HIV-positive people will "continue to suffer," Roger Bate, director of Africa Fighting Malaria, writes in a Washington Times opinion piece. Although antiretroviral drug prices have fallen by more than 90% in developing nations, a lack of trained medical personnel and sufficient health infrastructure have prevented widespread access to the drugs, Bate says. In addition, the development of new drugs is down by 33% over the past five years, he states. Smaller companies and those companies "whose reputations are not currently linked to AIDS research are quietly slipping away from the field," unwilling to "assum[e] the risk of clinical trials without the possibility of an eventual monetary reward," Bate says. While one would expect AIDS advocacy groups to "praise" companies still willing to do such research, the groups continue to attack pharmaceutical companies, he continues. In addition, while the Bush administration's plan to increase access to antiretroviral drugs is "commendabl[e] ... it seems to be unaware of the long-term harm of the anti-pharma campaigns," Bate says. Bate concludes, "It's ironic that activists have scared drug companies into action that will harm AIDS patients in the long run. For while government and activists can blame capitalism and the drug giants and profiteering, the latter acutally develop solutions; the former just talk about them" (Bate, Washington Times, 7/6).