Access to treatment is an essential aspect of the response to HIV/AIDS and a major focus of our campaign work. HIV does not have to be a death sentence. For over 20 years we have had drugs which control the virus, and turn HIV from a killer into a manageable condition. Over time the drugs have got better and better, and sticking to your drug regime means you can live a long and full life.
We’ve made great strides in getting people onto treatment in recent years, but much more needs to be done. 10 million people are still in need of treatment worldwide. Why, if we have the drugs available, are people not getting them?
There are many difficulties with accessing drugs. The health infrastructure of many countries is often not good enough to ensure the supplies reach those most in need. There is a global shortage of health workers. In some countries user fees make it impossible to afford healthcare. Lack of education and awareness of HIV/AIDS can mean people are not aware they should be accessing treatment. There are issues associated with the stigma and discrimination people face who are HIV+. There are issues with the sustainability of funding. There is a need to do more on prevention to reduce the numbers who need treatment – for every two who start treatment, five are newly infected.
Another key issue is the price of the drugs. High prices go hand in hand with monopolies – and the current system in world trade ensures that when pharmaceutical companies invent new drugs, they get exactly that. Find out more about patents and the TRIPS agreement here.
In 2007 the Student Stop AIDS Campaign was successful in helping to get the UK government to stand up for Thailand against the bullying of pharmaceutical giant Abbott. Abbott’s dodgy dealings first hit the headlines in early 2006 amid evidence that despite claiming to offer a vital HIV drug at cost price to the developing world, they had failed to actually register or supply the heat stable version of its drug Kaletra in any African countries. Later in 2007 Abbott decided to withdraw seven life-saving drugs from the Thai market.
Abbott’s move was an unprecedented retaliation against Thailand for attempting to access low cost generic versions of essential drugs. AIDS is a leading cause of death in Thailand, and increasing numbers of people living with HIV there are becoming resistant to first-line HIV treatment, and need access to newer, more expensive second-line medicines. High drug costs, and Abbott’s refusal to negotiate an affordable price, led the Thai government to issue a compulsory license.
On our annual day of action in 2007 Abbott staff arrived at their UK HQ greeted by campaigners, grim reapers, human pills and sick patients telling Abbott that the games it plays with people’s lives makes them sick. Later that year, Thailand was able to issue its compulsory licences and access the drugs it needed for its people. Success!