Nick Henderson was a participant on the Youth 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, but the culmination of a slow but steady stream of good news. Promising lab results one year, successful human trials a few years later. A large scale study that stopped early because it was so successful, and then, eventually, a pharmaceutical company will announce the cure is going into production. It’s like waiting patiently for Christmas, but for over a decade.
NHS planners will have been involved long before that. Various committees will have 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, eventually, agreed upon.
Letters will start falling on doorsteps across Britain. “Your cure appointment will be at 10am” on a day that, like diagnosis day, no one will forget. Elton John will share a podium with the Prime Minister. Maybe William and Kate will visit a clinic and TV cameras will capture the emotions of the men, women and children who will walk out of clinics across Britain free of HIV.
For many people who have lived more than half their lives positive, it will be the end of something huge. For some, the impact on their health will remain long after the daily pills are gone, while others will simply move on like recovery from any other condition.
We don’t need to imagine too hard how the cure for HIV will be rolled out. In fact we already have Hepatitis C as a precedent. A near perfect drug; needed by hundreds of thousands, held hostage by the broken pharmaceutical system and an NHS without unlimited resources. There’s no national push to wipe out Hep C in Britain; instead there are ever growing numbers with an active virus causing damage in their bodies and being spread to others, while the drug Sofosbuvir sits out of reach behind its $100,000 price tag.
The nakedly commercialised system of drug patents puts profits before health time and time again, for disease after disease. We live in an incredible age of medical technology and an understanding of the human body that was unimaginable even a decade ago, yet this broken drug development system awards more financial gain to fixes for hayfever than treatments for TB.
The problem is not private enterprise, but that we trust the development of life saving drugs to treat global epidemics to companies that put shareholders before patients. The result is 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 we should let scientists be scientists and give incentives to fix the most pressing problems, not just the ones that make money. As a nation, as a European Union and as a world we can prioritise health research in a strategic way under the guidance of the World Health Organisation. If every nation committed just 0.01% of GDP to an international patent free medicines fund, we could systematically wipe out disease after disease after disease.
But that’s a cost/benefit analysis the pharmaceutical industry doesn’t want to see.
This World AIDS Day, don’t just ask your MP to wear a red ribbon. It’s not enough just to be “aware” of the problem anymore. Ask your elected representatives to do something about it. Ask them to support Youth Stop AIDS Missing Medicines campaign, and let’s bring that day closer all across the world; when letters will fall on doorsteps for that long awaited appointment with the cure.