Larry Kramer, the founder of the AIDS activist group, ACT-UP, used the quote above in a recent piece he wrote for the New York Times. As he does so well, Kramer was reminding us of the obscene reality that life saving AIDS drugs are not available to the vast majority of those infected with the virus world-wide. The reasons for this are not nearly as complex as multinational drug companies and their fellow travelers, many in the AIDS industry, would have us believe. The bottom line is money.
Case in point is the latest AIDS drug to hit the market, a drug called Fuzeon/enfuvirtide or simply T-20, currently being priced in this country in the neighborhood of $25,000 per year. Its claim to fame is that it is in a new class of drugs and works to control the virus differently than the other AIDS drugs available. What this means is that if someone’s HIV is resistant to the other classes of drugs this one will work, for awhile, but HIV will become resistant to this one too, if it’s the only new kid in your cocktail.
Many insurance companies will not pay this price and the government subsidized HIV medication programs, already sinking, will simply not be able to offer it at all. This is also a class issue, money = drug, no money = no drug! That this is occurring in the richest country in the world is mind-boggling, but that can be said for the entire state of health care in this country.
The issue is not the management of limited resources, but one of priorities. Why does my 80 year old mother living on Social Security with breast cancer have to pay for her own Temoxifen when we as tax payers are being asked to pony up an additional $75 billion to pay for the liberation of Iraq? Something is out of whack here folks!
A few more words on T-20 for those looking into it, you will of course first have to rob a bank or try to sell a Tomahawk missile on E-Bay. One Tomahawk would actually buy a shit load of T-20! It is not a miracle drug and it is not any more potent than many of the other drugs available. To be most effective it needs to be combined with a drug from one of the three major classes that you haven’t already used. The current AIDS drugs available fall into three different classes, unfortunately if you have used up one drug in a class the others will not work as well either. So just because you haven’t used a specific drug does not mean it is an effective one to add to T-20. Also, T-20 is an injection twice a day that must be carefully mixed.
As I have written before in this space it is imperative that the AIDS community realize affordable access to live saving medications affects many people with a variety of illnesses in this country. We need to be aware of this as a universal issue and begin working in coalition with others to actualize the reality of “medicine for people and not for profits”.