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6200: AIDS Drugs-Haiti (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By THEO EMERY
CAMBRIDGE, Mass., 19 Nov 00 (AP) -- The jars of leftover AIDS
medications Moses Alicea plucked from his stash of pill bottles and vials
were bound for the dump. Alicea no longer uses them, and reselling them in
the United States would be illegal.
But the work of two Cambridge groups has changed their course, and that
of dozens of AIDS medications like them, to Haiti, where the drugs are
"If I can't use them, somebody else can. There's a lot of stuff out
there that's just being dumped," said Alicea, 36.
For the past year, Cambridge Cares About AIDS has been collecting the
pills, most of them left over when a person switches drug regimens because
of debilitating side effects.
So far, the group has delivered some $200,000 worth of medications to
Partners in Health, a Boston-based organization with a clinic in Haiti that
distributes the drugs to people with AIDS and HIV. Between 50 and 100
people who would otherwise never receive treatment are regularly receiving
the medications there.
At the root of the salvage effort is the vast gulf between availability
of the medications in affluent countries like the United States and
developing countries like Haiti.
Some 95 percent of the more than 33 million people with HIV and AIDS in
the world are in poor countries, according to the World Health
Organization. In Haiti, considered the hemisphere's poorest country, just
over 5 percent of the adult population is living with HIV.
In poor countries, the so-called drug "cocktails" -- which can cost
upward of $20,000 per year in the United States -- are about 30 times the
average monthly income, according to the group Doctors Without Borders.
Partners in Health executive director Dr. Jim Yong Kim said there's an
enormous unmet need that his group's effort cannot even begin to solve
without global attention -- and a global solution -- to the drug crisis, he
"This is now an absolute disaster and an absolute crisis," Kim said.
"It's a moral problem, but it's also an economic and political problem."
Only a handful of groups send unused AIDS drugs overseas. There is no
agency overseeing the practice, no way of knowing how common it is or
whether groups are adhering to WHO guidelines for drug donations, said
Michael R. Reich, acting chairman of the Department of Population and
International Health at the Harvard School of Public Health.
But he said that while donations will never fill the need for drugs in
poor countries, the effort highlights the problem.
"Troubling questions arise from gaps in access," he said. "Haiti is a
country with extraordinary needs for good drugs, and donations provide a
mechanism for trying to address the gap."
James Russo, spokesman for the Partnership for Quality Medical
Donations, an organization made up of drug companies and non-governmental
groups that distribute free drugs overseas, said it is a "perfectly
reasonable and understandable and decent thing to do."
Such donations may not technically be legal, because the recipient is
not the person for whom the drugs were prescribed, he said. But if the
drugs are properly used and distributed, then public health benefits
override such legal issues.
"The fact that it needs doing is, to me, a tragic observation about the
state of public health policy," he said. "Nothing but good can come from
something like this."
On the Web:
World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/
Doctors Without Borders: http://www.msf.org/
Partners in Health: http://www.pih.org/
Partnership for Quality Medical Donations: