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AIDS Funding in Canada

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Medical funding often responds better to failure than to success and AIDS is no exception. Health Canada spent more than $160,000 for each of the 261 Canadians newly diagnosed with AIDS in 2000. The pharmaceutical paradigm has not resulted in a cure and many people are dying from drug side-effects.

Medical funding often responds better to failure than to success and AIDS is no exception. Health Canada spent more than $160,000 for each of the 261 Canadians newly diagnosed with AIDS in 2000.
The pharmaceutical paradigm has not resulted in a cure and many people are dying from drug side-effects. Because most AIDS drugs suppress the immune system, it is difficult to separate problems caused by drugs from those caused by HIV.

Clinical research (mostly new drugs and vaccines) is the focus of almost $8 million of Health Canada's annual funding. Recently, BC AIDS researcher Dr Julio Montaner noted an increase in patients who were resistant to all AIDS drugs. Rather than questioning the effectiveness of an approach based entirely on toxic drug therapy, or the usefulness of the surrogate markers used to define treatment success (as opposed to the health of the patient, which often declines once drug therapy starts), he called for yet more research to produce yet more drugs.

AIDS funding has been steady in Canada for several years, although AIDS drug-treatment activists have called for more money for research, just like in the United States where a staggering $93 billion US was spent in the first 20 years of AIDS, with increases in funding every year. Perhaps part of the reason is that AIDS is much more visible in the US. By the end of 2000, a cumulative total of 774,467 cases had been diagnosed there, compared with only 17,594 in Canada. Even the 10-fold difference in populations between our countries cannot explain a 44-fold difference in AIDS incidence. The answer could lie in our different definitions of AIDS. The definition used in the US since 1993 has allowed almost two-thirds of recent diagnoses to be made in perfectly healthy people based on two lab tests, the HIV test and CD4 cell count.

Medical funding thrives on incurable diseases, and HIV/AIDS has been marketed for the last 20 years as the greatest threat to world health. Those of us whose taxes are used to pay for the pharmaceutical research are discouraged from asking why alternative approaches are not funded, especially considering that the dominant approach has not led to a cure. Estimates of when a cure will be available seem to be moving further and further into the future, while reports of debilitating side-effects from drug therapy continue to mount in the scientific literature.

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