World AIDS Day, observed December 1st, is quickly approaching and with it celebrities and politicians attempts to raise awareness and funds are increasing. Most recent is Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Alicia Keyes campaign — Buy Life. She has enlisted the help of her celebrity friends in order to raise $1 million dollars for the cause. They have decided to take part in a “Digital Life Sacrifice,” in which fans will have to buy back their online presence on social networks such as Twitter by donating to Keyes’ HIV/AIDS charity, Keep a Child Alive.[i] These fundraising efforts are particularly important in this global economic climate where funds are diminishing. Despite a recent study conducted in Lesotho showing that “earlier treatment reduced the mortality rate and hospitalization of HIV patients by more than 60 percent,” international donors have scaled back funding.[ii] The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the largest global AIDS organization, is currently planning two simultaneous protests (one in Washington D.C., another in Los Angeles) against the Chinese Government over their poor donations to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria. Despite receiving $940M from the fund and having one of the world’s largest economies, it has only contributed $16M to the fund.[iii]
The role of the pharmaceutical company in fighting the spread, treatment, and cure of HIV/AIDS must be highlighted, as it can play a large hand in both the cause’s success or failure. These pharmaceutical companies’ main goal is to make a profit which doesn’t often coincide with the goals of governments and NGOs in eradicating HIV/AIDS. The R&D process for pharmaceutical companies can be very costly, with many proposed drugs never making it to market. Merck just announced that Isentress, an HIV drug, had failed to show that it was as effective once-a-day as its current twice-a-day schedule.[iv] This is not only bad news for efforts to treat HIV, as people will be more likely to keep up with treatment if it is just once a day, but also for Merck as they now face competition from once-a-day pills being developed by Gilead Sciences and GlaxoSmithKline. Even if these drugs do make it to market, pharmaceutical companies will try to make back their costs and then some, which can hurt low- and middle-income populations when they can’t afford the prices. In some cases, these companies have been known to overcharge the NGOs purchasing the medications. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation just filed a suit against Bristol-Meyers Squibb alleging just that.[v]
While worry builds among NGOs on how to close the increasing funding gap, this is not the only issue that must be faced. Even if the gap were completely closed (and then some), there is no guarantee that these NGOs or governments will appropriately disburse these funds in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The Red Cross reports that China, Ukraine, Russia, Malaysia, and Vietnam are facing serious problems with intravenous drug use. This could be devastating to efforts to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, since in countries such as Russia, Georgia, and Iran these “drug-injecting users account for more than 60 percent of HIV infections.”[vi] The Red Cross has deemed this a public health emergency, and stresses the importance of the role of government in providing health services targeting this subgroup in curtailing the spread of HIV.
While money is dire if we are to properly treat those already suffering from HIV/AIDS as well as prevent it from spreading further, it is not the only element of the cure. There are many other important roles to be played and obstacles to be tackled by governments as well as NGOs if HIV/AIDS is ever to be stopped.