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HIV activists protest high drug costs

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While doctors celebrate the first HIV organ transplant, HIV activist groups rallied in cities around the world to protest what they say is a critical issue for people with chronic health issues – high drug costs. They marched to Pfizer headquarters in New York. Daniel Rostas stopped by the protest to find out more about their demands.

ROSTAS: Martin Shkreli was just the tip of the iceberg.

That’s what these activists came here to say.

After the infamous pharmaceutical CEO hiked the price of an HIV drug from $13.50 to $750 overnight last year, health advocacy groups sounded the alarm about inflating drug costs.

Andrew Velez is a member of ACT UP at the protest. He says these high drug costs affect people with all sorts of diseases – not just HIV. The group was founded in the 80’s when costs for HIV drugs were also extremely high.


I was there at the beginning.

And why are you here today?

I’m here for the same reason. Sometimes the names change, but the battle stays the same.

Elizabeth Owens has Hepatitis C. Activists say it costs $84000 dollars to buy a 12 weeks of the drugs she needs. But she says she can’t afford it. She has no insurance.

OWENS: How dare they sit up there and tell me that they’re going to kill me? So I’m here this day to tell them, lower those prices for Hepatitis C medication, because I want to live.

About fifty people marched to the steps of drug giant Pfizer’s offices on 42nd Street.


Dr. Kenneth Kaitin is the Director of Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development – and there was an ACT UP protest outside their building, too – he says these companies do invest lots of money in researching and developing these drugs, which is why they’re expensive.

KAITIN: It’s i think up to policy makers the developers themseves and the physicians to ensure that these breakthrough drugs of the future are available to those who need them.

Kaitin says the US is the only industrialized country that doesn’t regulate the cost of prescription medications.

Pfizer says it supports ACT UP’s right to protest. It also says it has programs to assist patients.

But ACT UP says until these new drugs become affordable for people without insurance, they’ll keep protesting.

Daniel Rostas, Columbia Radio News

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