Media Irresponsibility


a & u >"America's AIDS Magazine" so-called
editorial >April 2001

.The ABCs of AIDS >
editorial by David Waggoner, publisher of A&U

The recent actions by ACT UP against multi-national pharmaceuticals are anything but a long-range success. Not because they won't lower the costs of AIDS drugs in Africa, but because they'll dampen the enthusiasm for drug manufacturers to increase their R&D into therapies for HIV. This sobering fact is disturbing to those who are trying to bring about a real change in the way AIDS drugs are devloped, reach market, and eventually save lives. Although the actions of a few can sometimes cange the results for many, I don't think it is wise to assume any real difference will ever come about until a real détente occurs between patients' advocates and the pharmaceutical companies themselves.

I am no apologist for Big Pharma and its eager desire to please Wall Street. As many well-known and dead activists have noted in the AIDS press, AIDS treatments equal big profit. But what is the real motivation for ACT UP in these days of dead-lock? Is it trying to suggest that the profit motive--and therefore the movement of capital into the pharmaceutical industry--be removed from the equation? Some would have it that the pharmaceutical industry is the biggest threat of all to people living with AIDS. It doesn't work that way. A lack of new venture capital will be the most serious setback to containing, treating, and curing AIDS.

Louis Pasteur (as in penicillin) or Jonas Salk (as in the polio vaccine) did not have to contend with the same regulatory and market conditions of today's pharmaceutical companies. Disease capitalists--known to you and me as drug companies--are those who risk a great deal of their own money to fund scientists who are on the frontlines of drug discovery. The unfortunate reality is that today's scientists and their employers--while working on the next big AIDS drug--are being attacked as if they were little more than the mortal enemies of everyone living with HIV.

While it is sickening when science is thwarted for economic gain, such is not the case here. The actions of ACT UP may actually backfire on those it wants to help. ACT UP's agitations have actually lowered prices for AIDS drugs in Africa. But the lowering of the price of AIDS medicines may have an unintended effect--decreased incentive for drug companies to develop and test new AIDS therapies. Already, several drug manufacturers have indicated the probablility that other diseases--ones less mired in controversy--will take a front seat to AIDS R&D. Such overlooked illnesses of the industrial world as Alzheimer's, cancer, and heart disease will shine brighter as the new golden rings for the so-called disease capitalists.

So what's to be done? Make AIDS drugs profitable for those who make them and affordable for those who take them. As recently reported by the French news agency, AFP, an illustration of this already exists in Botswana. As the world's largest producer of diamonds--eighty percent of the nation's export earnings are derived from diamond production--it is in Botswana's best interest to fund full treatment for its AIDS patients. With over one-third of its workers sick from HIV and AIDS, Debswana, Botswana's biggest diamond company, has announced that "to extend employees' productive lives, the company will subsidize the cost of antiretoviral drugs and the related monitoring of viral loads." This way, another form of capitalism--diamond mining--has found a unique way to underwrite the best AIDS treatments known.

As it stands, HIV is threatening to wipe out one-third of Africa's population. And yet ACT UP wants to send most of the world's AIDS scientists running for cover. What I would suggest is the following: Acquire new resources for AIDS education and prevention; Initiate new efforts for AIDS research outside the pharmaceutical sector, Direct new international efforts to create a heightened HIV consciousness; and Save lives through the commonsense use of known prevention efforts like needle exchange. Instead of fanning the flames of an incendiary situation, we should use activism as a means to encourage--not a way to end--AIDS research.

David Waggoner. Publisher & Editor-in-Chief
> phone: (518) 426-9010 fax (518) 436-5354



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Pharmaceutical corporations--adding their advertising expenses to their so-called research & development costs--pay for your rag, your salary, and this editorial...and YOU're throwing stones???


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