Monday, March 27, 2006

AIDS prevention option on the horizon?

AIDS drugs promise prevention in a bottle
Pricey pill combo could keep at-risk populations from catching the virus

ATLANTA - Twenty-five years after the first AIDS cases jolted the world, scientists think they soon may have a pill that people could take to keep from getting the virus that causes the global killer.

My initial gut reaction: how cool! another scientific breakthrough making the world a healthier place!

My second thought: condoms are cheaper. and will people really remember to take the pills every day?

Ah yes, the cynic shines through the temporary haze of euphoria.

Sure, if you are an African woman condoms might be hard to get or insist your partner use. But since most African villages can't get adequate supplies of basic antibiotics, I'm not counting on them being able to afford anti-AIDS drugs for all the women to take daily on a prophyalactic basis.

Drug combo costs $650 a month

Expense also could limit use of the drugs.
Gilead donated them for the studies and sells them in poor countries at cost — 57 cents a pill for tenofovir and 87 cents for Truvada, the combination drug. That's more than the cost of condoms, available for pennies and donated by the truckload in Africa, but often unused.

well look at that, I'm not the only one who figured out the economic problem. but wait...
And in the Atlanta labs where Heneine, Folks and others are still minding the monkeys, "the level of enthusiasm is pretty high," Heneine said. "This is very promising. For us to be involved in a potential solution to the big HIV crisis and pandemic is very exciting."

Sure, finding a way to prevent HIV/AIDS is very exciting. But the public health holy grail is a one-time vaccine (with no side effects naturally), not an expensive daily drug cocktail that is harder and more expensive to acquire than condoms. The researchers - while totally reasonable to be excited by the scientific accomplishment - are missing the point. They see themselves finding a potential solution to the big HIV pandemic, but what they are forgetting is that a potential solution already exists. Solutions are only good if people actually use them.


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