Op-Ed: Underwriting drugs saves lives, money

Drew Holland’s Feb. 20 column (“The reality of the AIDS epidemic,” p. 5) is right in calling for industrialized nations to fight the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. It is important to properly place the blame for the current crisis. By awarding 17-year patents on drugs to profit-driven companies, the U.S. is issuing a death sentence to more than 36 million people who have contracted HIV. Good alternatives exist: Brazil’s publicly financed generic drug industry cut the cost of drugs by 80 percent and provides them free to over 90,000 Brazilians. India has agreed to sell its cheap, generic AIDS medicine to African countries and relief organizations.

But the U.S. government is criminalizing these efforts with its trade policy. In this April’s Summit of the Americas, the U.S. will push for an agreement which may force Brazil to close its AIDS program and buy drugs at artificially high prices. Similar stipulations are enforced through other agreements.

U.S. consumers paid $106 billion last year for prescription drugs. The Center for Economic and Policy Research estimates consumers would save $79 billion if patent protections were dropped. While apologists justify patents citing the “need for innovation,” the reality is federal agencies and many universities foot more than half of the $22.5 billion spent annually on drug research without profits inspiring their creativity. Furthermore, more than 70 percent of the revenue generated by drug companies goes to marketing items like Viagra and not to research on critical drugs.

The U.S. government can save lives and money by directly financing drug research. At current levels, the drug industry will spend $240 billion over the next decade on research. Meanwhile, most proposed federal drug planss cost around $250 billion. By taking over domestic drug research, the government would save up to $10 billion, save Medicaid and Medicare from bankruptcy and save consumers 75 percent of prescription prices. It is within our means to challenge the current global HIV crisis that is threatening to obliterate Africa; whether we move forward is only a matter of political will.

-The writer, a member of the GW Action Coalition, is a senior majoring in international affairs.

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