Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 07/2008

Big Pharma and Big Profits: Denying Access to AIDS Medication

Stephanie Parker

August 2007

Africa Policy Information Center


Almost 40 million people around the world are currently living with HIV/AIDS. The number of people affected by the AIDS pandemic has steadily climbed over the last decade, devastating entire populations and destroying communities, especially in Africa. While the international community has yet to find a solution to this grave threat to global health, innovations in drug development have allowed countless people to significantly prolong their lives through HIV/AIDS medication, specifically antiretroviral drugs (ARVs). This valuable medicine, however, is available only to a small portion of people living with HIV. Millions of people, the majority of which live in the Global South, are unable to receive drug treatment because they cannot afford the high costs of the medicine.

Evidence clearly demonstrates that the effects of the AIDS pandemic are most pronounced in Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa has the lowest treatment coverage for children of any region in the world, and over 85% of HIV-infected pregnant women live in sub-Saharan Africa. The region accounts for two-thirds of the total treatment need in low- and middle-income countries, but over 70% of its people in need of ARVs do not have access to treatment. Desire for profits and unwillingness to lower drug prices are preventing access to life-saving medication in Africa.