For the past two decades multinational drug companies have turned a blind eye on the AIDS epidemic in South Africa by refusing to sell antiretroviral drugs to them at discounted prices. The antiretroviral drugs are the standard virus treatment available to AIDS patients in the United States and other developed nations. The cost for the treatment runs between $10,000 and 15,000 per patient per year. The high cost of the drugs makes it virtually impossible for South Africans to afford it when their average income is less than $500 per year.
There are more than 25 million people in sub-Saharan Africa infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS. Last year 2.4 million South Africans died from the disease. Many were babies and teenagers, which are the most vulnerable of the population. The epidemic, which was once viewed as "being so large it defied a solution", has now reached pandemic proportions. Every man, woman, and child is either effected or affected with this deadly disease.
However, due to increasing public awareness regarding the high price of the drugs and the intense pressures from advocacy groups across the globe to lower them, the tides are beginning to turn. In the last six months 39 multinational drug companies have agreed to lower their drug prices to make them more affordable to AIDS patients in South Africa. This is the first positive step in a very complex process of providing the drugs to the afflicted. The next hurdle will be devising an effective plan to deliver and administer the drug to the millions of sick and dying South Africans.
In the past, drug companies have opposed selling their antiretroviral drugs at discounted prices to South Africa because it would have been unprofitable for them. Profitability is the name of the game in the business world. Drug companies are businesses; they are in business to make money. They have commitments to their employees and stockholders to be profitable.