The first was that the patent on landmark HIV/AIDS drug Combivir expired this week. Approved in 1997, it remains one of the most prescribed anti-viral medications for patients with HIV. Now that generic versions can be made, it will become much more cost effective and more widely available than ever before.
One of the benefits of antiviral medication like Combivir is that it reduces the chances of transmitting the HIV virus during sexual activity, potentially helping to reduce or eliminate the spread of the disease.
This is interesting when considered the context of another top news story this week, in which California authorities arrested, charged and jailed a 34-year-old man for refusing to take medication that would prevent his Tuberculosis infection becoming contagious. It is the 32nd time someone in the county has been charged with a criminal offense for refusing to take medication, including one woman who refused to take medication to treat the bacterial disease Syphilis, and slept with multiple partners while infected.
It’s already common in some areas of America to charge people when they sleep with a partner without disclosing their HIV+ status beforehand, but could the combination of easier access to HIV meds and the court case in California take that a step further?
Will HIV+ patients now be opened up to facing criminal prosecution if they refuse to take their antiviral medication? At the heart of the issue is the perception of public safety. The Tuberculosis patient posed a public health risk by refusing his medication. Does that same logic apply to HIV+ patients?
Most would argue no, as unlike Tuberculosis, HIV can only be spread through sexual activity, not coughs, sneezes and other mundane methods. But if an HIV+ patient is sexually active, does that perceived “public health risk” become a valid concern again?
Two years ago, Dr. Brian Williams of the South African Center for Epidemiological Modeling and Analysis outlined a bold plan to eliminate AIDS within 40 years through the use of existing antiviral drugs. It relied upon at-risk patients taking responsibility for having themselves tested every year, and then taking and sticking to a lifetime regimen of antiviral drugs. So far, this plan hasn’t panned out because some HIV+ patients refuse to do either or both, and perpetuate the cycle of infection.
Some argue that laws holding HIV+ patients legally responsible to take their medication could help turn Dr. William’s bold vision into a reality, but how do you feel about that?
Should HIV+ patients be required – at the risk of criminal prosecution – to take their medication? Or is that too much of a violation of their personal freedoms, even in the face of the world’s horrifying AIDS epidemic? Let us know in the comments below.