Friday, January 13, 2006

Yoohoo! Over here!

Jamie McGeever writes for Reuters:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former U.S. President Bill Clinton announced on Thursday an initiative with nine drug companies he said would cut the cost of HIV/AIDS testing and treatment in 50 developing countries and help save hundreds of thousands of lives.

It's an admirable effort, and the companies that have stepped forward to participate share in the kudos that should be spread around on this.

Four companies - Chembio Diagnostics Inc, Orgenics, a subsidiary of Inverness Medical Innovations, Qualpro Diagnostics and Shanghai Kehua - will offer rapid HIV/AIDS testing at half the current cost and provide results within 20 minutes.
. . .
Another four companies - Cipla, Ranbaxy, Strides Arcolab and Aspen Pharmacare - will offer the first-line drug Efavirenz, with ingredients supplied by Matrix Laboratories, at below-market rates. Cipla will also provide the second-line drug Abacavir at lower cost.

What McGeever--and the many other news outlets that have picked up the story--has missed is that the U.S. is falling behind in its own approach to the epidemic.

  • The newly passed FY 2006 federal Labor/HHS appropriations bill includes a mere $10 million increase in funding for medications with cuts in prevention and services.
  • NASTAD reports that "of the 850,000 to 950,000 people estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S., 42%-59% are not yet in the care system, including those who should be receiving highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) and other HIV-related medications.
  • In addition, NASTAD reports that "[a]s of March 2005, 21 ADAPs reported having one or more cost containment measures in place, including 11 with waiting lists representing a total of 627 individuals.
  • NASTAD's report did not include the waiting list for Fuzeon at the Texas HIV Medication Program (THMP)--62 today.
  • THMP added nearly 200 new clients because of the dislocations caused by Hurricane Katrina; reimbursement for the unbudgeted costs to the program from federal disaster relief is still uncertain.
  • Even without the Katrina factor, THMP was already projecting a shortfall in funds in the current biennium, placing the program at risk for instituting additional cost containment measures (current estimate: $6 - 7 million).
  • The uncertainties caused by the implementation of Medicare Part D and the still-reauthorized Ryan White CARE Act compound the difficulty of making even conservative budget forecasts for the future.

As pleased as we are by President Clinton's efforts on behalf of the developing world, it's still hard not to want to stick our head out the window and shout: "Yoohoo! Over here! We could use some help, too!" Still, if Mr. Clinton is busy taking care of the rest of the world, there's no reason not to do a little noodging of the U.S. press. There's plenty to write about here at home besides celebrity hairdos and sports scores. So maybe we should stick our heads out our windows and give our press a shout: "Here's a story that needs covering!"

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