Former President Bill Clinton joined the ONE Campaign’s World AIDS Day event on Thursday by satellite and demonstrated that former presidents have the luxury of being controversial.
In the context of the challenges of getting services including antiretroviral therapy to millions of people in need in a very difficult economic climate, Clinton noted that the U.S. government, as well as other major donors, needs to do a better job at getting aid dollars to the people they were intending to serve, alluding to the high overhead rates of contractors and other practices that keep a good share of every dollar from reaching service delivery.
The former president also ruffled more than a few feathers in pharmaceutical companies when he laid out some solutions to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) funding crisis in the United States. Clinton contrasted the cost of antiretroviral therapy in developing countries with costs in the United States, and suggested an interim strategy that could ensure access until the health care reform plan fully kicks in in 2014.
“On average, treatment in America costs about $10,000. We have our generic programs in African and lower-income countries and Latin America and in Southeast Asia, providing the medicine itself for about $120 and the single-pill treatment for just under 200 (dollars), the children’s treatment for about 60 (dollars),” according to Clinton.
He then called for consideration of a plan during this interim period where states would be allowed to purchase antiretroviral generic medications as a way to end the waiting lists. He even offered his foundation – the Clinton Health Access Initiative – as a broker and mechanism to facilitate delivery. For those who would argue that many of the newest antiretroviral medications are not available in generic formulations, Clinton had another idea to put on the table. Government officials could ask major pharmaceutical companies to slash their prices for state ADAP programs until health care reform is implemented, he said, noting that health care reform promised to be very lucrative for big pharma.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), congressional leader on both domestic and global AIDS, was intrigued and promised to follow up.