Nick Henderson was a participant on the YouthÂ Stop AIDS Speaker tour 2014. He is currently a member of the European AIDS Treatment Group and the Youth Stop AIDS Steering Committee. In this post, to mark the official launch of Youth Stop AIDS Missing Medicines campaign, he details how a cure for HIV & AIDS can become a reality.
I often think about the day when the cure comes. It won’t be a bolt from the blue, butÂ the culmination of a slow but steady stream of good news. Promising lab results oneÂ year, successful human trials a few years later. A large scale study that stoppedÂ early because it was so successful, and then, eventually, a pharmaceutical companyÂ will announce the cure is going into production. It’s like waiting patiently forÂ Christmas, but for over a decade.
NHS planners will have been involved long before that. Various committees will haveÂ discussed the best way to roll out the cure. They will have calculated the cost/benefit of vastly reduced numbers of Anti-Retroviral (ARV) treatments versus the proposed cost of the cure. Health authorities will negotiate with the drug company and a price will be,Â eventually, agreed upon.
Letters will start falling on doorsteps across Britain. â€œYour cure appointment will be atÂ 10amâ€ on a day that, like diagnosis day, no one will forget. Elton John will share aÂ podium with the Prime Minister. Maybe William and Kate will visit a clinic and TVÂ cameras will capture the emotions of the men, women and children who will walk outÂ of clinics across Britain free of HIV.
For many people who have lived more than halfÂ their lives positive, it will be the endÂ of something huge. For some, the impact on their health will remain long after theÂ daily pills are gone, while others will simply move on like recovery from any otherÂ condition.
We don’t need to imagine too hard how the cure for HIV will be rolled out. In fact weÂ already have Hepatitis C as a precedent. A near perfect drug; needed by hundredsÂ of thousands, held hostage by the broken pharmaceutical system and an NHSÂ without unlimited resources. There’s no national push to wipe out Hep C in Britain;Â instead there are ever growing numbers with an active virus causing damage in theirÂ bodies and being spread to others, while the drug Sofosbuvir sits out of reach behindÂ its $100,000 price tag.
The nakedly commercialised system of drug patents puts profits before health timeÂ and time again, for disease after disease. We live in an incredible age of medicalÂ technology and an understanding of the human body that was unimaginable even aÂ decade ago, yet this broken drug development system awards more financial gain toÂ fixes for hayfever than treatments for TB.
The problem is not private enterprise, but that we trust the development of life saving drugsÂ to treat global epidemics to companies that put shareholders before patients. The result isÂ that the drugs we have are too expensive, and the drugs we need just aren’t there.
The Missing Medicines campaign takes a different approach. It says weÂ should let scientists be scientists and giveÂ incentives to fix the most pressing problems, not just the ones that make money. As aÂ nation, as a European Union and as a world we can prioritise health research in a strategicÂ way under the guidance of the World Health Organisation. If every nation committed justÂ 0.01% of GDP to an international patent free medicines fund, we could systematically wipeÂ out disease after disease after disease.
But that’s a cost/benefit analysis the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t want to see.
This World AIDSÂ Day, don’t just ask your MP to wear a red ribbon. It’s not enough justÂ to be â€œawareâ€ of the problem anymore. Ask your elected representatives to doÂ something about it. Ask them to support Youth Stop AIDSÂ Missing MedicinesÂ campaign, and let’s bring that day closer all across the world; when letters will fall onÂ doorsteps for that long awaited appointment with the cure.