Drug-Peddling For A Cure

In August 2012, the Food and Drug Administration released its “one-a-day” pill for HIV, a composite pill of four drugs in one, a more convenient leap in treatment — so finally, AIDS victims globally can once again applaud the sanctity of modern medicine for aiding their degenerative bodies.

Wrong — the pill carries a price tag of around $30,000 a year, leaving an estimated 34 million victims globally still trailing a false hope for salvation.

“If that is not true excess, I don’t know what is,” Michael Weinstein, the AIDS Foundation president, said. “[All] for something that is not a true advance.”

The “new” drug, Stribild, lacks a lot of its apparent authenticity, according to the New York Times, and is rather an off-branch of Atripla, its predecessor, which was released in 2006, as well as Complera of 2011 — but with a one-third greater mark-up. The difference stems from the ingredients, now all owned and manufactured by Gilead Sciences, and would give the company 100 percent of the profits.

In times of radical global changes, which include socio-economic, cultural and political, we become despondent from our humanities and begin to exploit the fragility of the human condition for monetary gain.

Gilead Sciences would take in $2.5 billion per year for Stribild by 2015, reports J.P. Morgan Chase analyst, Geoffrey Meacham. Sentiments aside, the generation of profit from the drugs and the circulation of large quantities of money could, theoretically, bolster faltering economies worldwide.

However, the lack of its accessibility has longer-lasting nationalistic implications.

After all, the low to nonexistent prioritization of the epidemic worldwide presents the unseen issue that those who cannot afford to seek treatment will inevitably die, ripping holes in labor markets and causing shortages of workers.

AIDS is one of the greatest epidemics to face mankind, and what makes it even more frightening is the fact that the HIV virus is very elusive and adaptable. After a time, it evolves and builds a resistance to the drugs administered by the host, and the medication therefore become useless in the body’s defense.

Medication merely suppresses the virus and may drive it into dormancy for a few years. This requires its host to take expensive drugs to delay its effects throughout the entirety of their life, as there is no cure for its tolerance and adaptability.

That is the way in which Stribild’s supposed “breakthrough” is merely a farce and a capitalization of the populations’ fears and distresses associated with the disease.

Gilead Sciences said that they would allow manufacturers to make generic versions of the drug in underdeveloped countries.

However, with the AIDS epidemic hitting some of the most impoverished countries and continents globally (2.5 billion people worldwide live on less than two dollars a day, according to the poverty analysis at the World Bank), generic drugs are still out of reach.

The average person in the United States cannot afford treatment for their lifetime — if a person is lucky to live 40 years with the virus and is on the Stribild regimen, it would cost an estimated $1.2 million in drug expenses alone, not including testing and additional treatments.

Similarly in developed countries, those bearing the larger brunt of the virus and its potentially debilitating effects may become unable to work, and therefore revoke their place as an active laborer in the market place, according to the United Nations’ “Disability and HIV/AIDS.”

While the drug is available through assistance programs in the United States, not everyone may qualify for a discount, and such reductions in price will hardly appease struggling families’ budgets.

How high is too high a price on human life?


Sarah Gray Isenberg is a third-year comparative literature and literary journalism double major. She can be reached at sisenberg@uci.edu