AIDS in Africa: The Road Forward

Industry pioneers have already taken the first steps to address the AIDS crisis in Africa. But the fate of the millions infected—and those yet to be—lies in companies building upon the promise of their progress. This conclusion of Joanna Breitstein's report shows how they are working to craft tomorrow's models today.
Mar 01, 2005
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

Views from Uganda's Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda.
In 1999, The world was banging on the industry's door for free AIDS drugs. With one hand, activists pummeled companies' intellectual property, their prices, and their access programs, and with the other, painted antiretroviral (ARV) drugs as the single magic bullet for solving the worst scourge to ever face mankind.

The idea that free AIDS drugs wasn't the answer fell upon deaf ears, and the industry struggled to define its role in what was essentially a gruesomely massive public health and economic problem. Out of those troubled waters grew corporate social responsibility programs of unprecedented scope. Companies took a radical approach: instead of free drugs—an unsustainable donation given the scope of the problem—they wanted to invest in African systems that could grow and multiply and allow governments to treat their own people.

A lab technician at work in an African clinic funded by Secure the Future.
That year, Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) implemented its ambitious $115 million public health plan that reflected the enormity of the task at hand. The program, Secure the Future, targeted nine African countries—places like Burkina Faso and Lesotho—to begin developing the infrastructure needed to respond to and cope with the pandemic.

Secure the Future inspired other companies to go forward with their initiatives—and they did. The industry responded to AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis with more than $2 billion in aid in 2003, surpassing the annual budgets of development partners like the World Health Organization (WHO) or UNICEF, according to the Hudson Group. Many of those programs, like BMS', were five-year commitments. That means company initiatives now stand at a critical point, where their futures are being decided.

Views from Uganda's Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda.
Last month, Pharm Exec offered a snapshot of ARV distribution in Africa and the obstacles organizations face in obtaining drugs. This article discusses the road forward—how companies are developing new models, scaling up programs, and teaming up to fashion a better tomorrow for Africa.

The Aspen Experiment Back in 2001, Dr. Peter Mugyenyi was busy making secret arrangements to bring the first shipment of generic ARVs into Uganda. After researching doses, quality and cost, he decided to purchase the drugs from the Indian generic manufacturer Cipla. However, Cipla balked at the request: At the time, 39 drug companies were fighting the government of South Africa in court, contesting what they felt was their right to compulsory license ARV drugs. Mugyenyi wasn't a licensed importer, but he told Cipla to send the drugs anyway—he would take full responsibility for the consequences.

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