Andrew Sullivan posted last week about How to Survive a Plague, a documentary about the AIDS epidemic in America. Then a follow-up post with reader comments caught my attention. They were reflecting on a terrible crisis that’s largely passed. One person wrote about his daily dose of Complera: “One pill. Every morning. Forever. And I’ll be fine.”
How wonderful for him.
I typed this response:
My friend died of AIDS on April 25 this year. Unlike your reader, he wasn’t taking Complera but a combination of outdated drugs every morning and evening. The drugs themselves were attacking his organs over time. He was only nine. He’s survived by his older sister and many friends who are also living with HIV.
The long term survival of all my young friends living with HIV is very much in question today, because they are poor. A decade ago life saving ARV’s were finally produced for the poor, and today they are still taking the same drugs. There are only two levels of treatment available for them. I hate to think what will happen when the kids on second level treatment start failing, and the time will come. They are dying because their medications are toxic and time limited. A new ARV option would be a major gift for them.
Now that people in the developed world have Complera, will there be another great campaign to provide similar treatment in generic form for the poor?
I am attaching photos of my friend along with a picture he painted of his mother shortly before he died. The picture depicts her caring for him when he was sick with TB (and recovered) last year. He was finally taken down by an infection that attacked his brain. His friends called him Lankrome (which means “Bus”).
I have permission from Lankrome’s mother to share his story and these pictures. I want children living with HIV to live. I don’t want their organs to start failing when they’re still young from taking toxic medicine. I’d like them to have Complera at a price they can afford, or a generic equivalent, but they may take people moving mountains. The drug companies don’t want to give up their ability to profit, even from a boy like Lankrome.
Lankrome taking his evening dose of ARV drugs in 2008
A painting by Lankrome of his mother caring for him
when he was sick with TB in 2011
UPDATE: I’m not an expert on ARV drugs. I just know that poor kids in Cambodia are getting drugs that are no longer used in developed countries. These drugs are known to fail over time, and they have detrimental side effects, including organ damage. More than a decade ago, pharmaceutical companies spent millions and played rough politics worldwide to resist the production of cheap, generic ARV’s for the poor. They self-righteously offered to discount ARV’s, hoping that public sentiment would lead government aid agencies to buy their drugs “on sale” with huge profit windfalls. Ironically, these companies poured money into electing George Bush, but he didn’t do what they expected. He refused to exert pressure to stop the “illegal” production and distribution of generic ARV drugs, and that probably saved millions of lives. Today the fight continues. The pharmaceutical industry is preventing a new round of better ARV’s, like Complera, from being distributed in generic form to the poor who desperately need them.