I was reading an article in the Times yesterday about a new program being put into place in Africa by the Clinton Foundation. This program will provide millions of children with medications to treat HIV. It was said in the article that there are over 2.3 million children in the world with HIV, and 2 million of those are in Africa. Most of these children, having contracted the virus at birth, will not see the age of 5.
In order to provide this life saving medication, the Clinton Foundation had to broker a deal with pharmaceutical companies in India, because their patent laws are lax and thus they can make generic a drug that was before only available in the much more expensive brand name form. This has become the norm in programs to provide HIV medications to people in developing countries, and while it is an amazing gift to these people, it is one of the many things in the world I cannot wrap my mind around. Why is it that millions of lives are not worth the millions of dollars pharmaceutical companies stand make off these medications? Why is it that we in the United States have had these medications for years before it even becomes a topic of discussion to send them to people abroad? In NYC, the mother-to-child transmission rate of HIV is less than 1% because there was a study of medication to prevent such infections about 10 years ago, and they found the medication so effective that they stopped the study and started giving it to every pregnant woman who was HIV positive. And yet 700,000 children will be infected with this terrible disease this year alone, in countries with fewer resouces, when it is well known what could stop this.
In the article, they speak of the fact that Thailand has chosen to break the patents of several drug companies, despite its own strict patent laws. "David Wilson, an official with Doctors Without Borders in Thailand, lauded the move. 'Thailand is demonstrating,' he said in an e-mailed statement, 'that the lives of patients have to come before the patents of drug companies.'" This, the last sentence of the article, made it very clear to me how much trouble the world is in, that something so seemingly simple has become a revolutionary act.