Where Are The Drugs?

by Kaitlyn Dally on February 20, 2014

The Lack of Access to Affordable Medicines for the Treatment of HIV in Developing Countries


“If there were 30 to 40 million white people who didn’t have access to treatment, it would be the most important question you could possibly imagine,” explains James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International (Fire in the Blood). He is referring to the phenomena in the late 1990s and early 2000s in which millions of poor people in developing countries were denied access to affordable treatments for HIV and AIDS because of restrictions put in place by international trade laws, which were brought about from lobbies by pharmaceutical companies.

In early 1980s the presence of opportunistic infections in young, previously healthy, gay American men was identified by the CDC, and within a year AIDS was identified and the epidemic had begun. The AIDS epidemic sparked mass fear worldwide and has killed millions of people to date. However between 1995 and 1996, a new class of drugs, now known as the “triple cocktail” of antiretroviral drugs, was proved to be effective in suppressing HIV and fighting AIDS. These antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) became the go-to treatment for patients with HIV and AIDS, and allowed patients to live longer by suppressing the HIV virus and aiding in the prevention of transmission. Due to the availability of these treatments, which cost close to $15,000 per patient per year, death rates due to AIDS plummeted in developed nations where patients were able to afford such treatments.

Sub-Saharan Africa has over 25 million people living with HIV – approximately 69% of all people with the infection – and have over 70% of the deaths worldwide due to AIDS. “Over 2 million people were have reported to die in one year alone,” but it was only in 2007 that AIDS infections in Africa began to decline, while in America and other developed nations infections began to decline as early as 1996. Due to the obscenely high prices of these treatments, people in Sub-Saharan Africa – region in which people often live on less than one dollar per day – were unable to afford the medicines.

Pharmaceutical companies of course are allowed to charge whatever prices they wish for their name-brand drugs, however these drug companies worked extremely hard with the US government and the World Trade Organization to extend patents and change patent laws, making it illegal for developing countries to import cheaper generic drugs from countries such as Thailand and India that were already producing them for their own citizens. Because of the actions of these pharmaceutical companies, millions of Africans were unable to receive any treatment whatsoever and were killed.

Since then, some countries have been able to access less expensive, generic treatments for HIV and AIDS and in recent years the number of new infections have decreased worldwide, however the lack of access to affordable drugs for the world’s poor still remains a significant public health catastrophe. Lack of access not only contributes to poor health and stigmatization, but also continues the cycle of poverty and destitution among the world’s poor. The lack of access to affordable treatments and drugs to the global poor is a critical issue that must be addressed to meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goals and improve the health of people worldwide.





Fire in the Blood. Dir. Dylan Mohan Gray. Sparkwater India, 2013. Film.



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