Tobias Must Use Inexpensive, Generic AIDS Drugs If ‘Serious’ About Fight Against HIV/AIDS, New York Times Editorial Says
Randall Tobias, head of the new State Department Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, is "full of energy and enjoys a reputation as a good manager," but his office has failed a "key test" of whether it is using its $15 billion over five years "wisely," according to a New York Times editorial. Tobias' office has said it will not purchase an inexpensive, new combination generic antiretroviral pill that has been used successfully in the past, is made by two well-known manufacturers and has been approved by the World Health Organization, the editorial says. If Tobias is "serious about saving lives, cheap, simple [AIDS] treatments like the combination pill are the way," the editorial says. Instead, Tobias' office is "convening a meeting of world agencies" to determine the safety of generic antiretroviral drugs, the Times says, adding that although this is a "fine idea," it "should not preclude using safe generics today." There are other "worrisome signs that the Bush administration may be making decisions that benefit important constituencies at the expense of fighting AIDS," according to the Times. For example, instead of using the initiative's funds to "star[t] saving lives right away," Tobias' office delayed action for a year while it set up a "new bureaucracy," according to the editorial. In addition, Tobias will be giving much of the initiative's money to U.S. contractors -- who frequently charge more for the same work as African groups -- and to religious groups with no proven HIV/AIDS experience. Tobias' office also will allow the U.S. ambassador in each country to set priorities for the initiative, "which could conflict with what countries want to do," the editorial says. The Times concludes that Tobias, who is former chair and CEO of the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, will have to "go out of his way to dispel the fear that he is too steeped in the ways of his old industry" to be an effective leader in the battle against HIV/AIDS (New York Times, 2/16).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.