AHF to Stage “Day of the Dead” Funeral Procession to Protest Gilead’s AIDS Drug Prices

In Advocacy, News by AHF

AIDS Advocates Protest Over Gilead’s Pricing of AIDS Drug, Atripla, for Nation’s Hard-Hit AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP); More Than 6,500 Americans Are on ADAP Waitlists in 12 States

Following a Four-Car Mock Funeral Procession from Oakland to Foster City, Participants Staged a Mock Funeral Outside of Gilead Headquarters, Wearing Skeleton Masks, Dressed in All-Black, & Carrying a Coffin in Memory of Those Who Have Died While on ADAP Waitlists

Scores of AIDS advocates participated in a funeral procession and mock “die-in” protest hosted by AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), on Wednesday, November 2nd starting in Oakland and traveling to the headquarters of Gilead Sciences Inc.’s in Foster City, to protest the company’s pricing of its HIV/AIDS medications.  The four-car funeral procession, directed by two funeral escorts, began in Oakland and slowly made its way over the San Mateo Bridge, traveling nearly 30 miles to the Foster City Gilead Science’s headquarters, where protestors honored and remembered those who have died of AIDS while on AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) waitlists.  AIDS advocates wore skeleton masks, dressed in all black, and held banners and handmade signs with the message: “Gilead, do the right thing!” as well as carry a 4 ft. x 2 ½ ft. coffin.

The mock funeral procession and “die-in” protest was held to highlight the severe crisis facing the nation’s ADAPs, a network of federal and state funded programs that provide life-saving HIV treatments to low income, uninsured, and underinsured individuals living with HIV/AIDS nationwide. The advocates’ goal is to raise public awareness and educate community members—including Gilead employees—regarding the steep prices that government programs are paying for Gilead’s blockbuster HIV/AIDS drug, Atripla (efavirenz & tenofovir & emtricitabine)—currently $10,000 per patient, per year for ADAP.

The funeral procession and “die-in” protest echoed three similar “die-in” protests and a “pill-bottle” protest, which took place recently outside the Foster City Gilead Sciences Inc.’s headquarters.  In addition, AIDS Healthcare Foundation previously released a 30-second television commercial: “Gilead: AIDS Drug Prices to Die For.”  The ad, which ran on MSNBC and CNN in San Francisco, Foster City and surrounding areas, urged the company to lower prices immediately and directed viewers to send an e-letter to Gilead CEO John Martin by visiting www.2gilead.org.

This protest coincided with the traditional Mexican holiday, “Day of the Dead”, which brings people together to remember, pray for, and celebrate friends and family members who have died. So in the spirit of the holiday, protesters remembered those who have died while on ADAP waiting lists and sent a message that many lives are still at risk.

As of October 27th, there are 6,689 people on waiting lists in twelve states, according to ADAP Watch, published regularly by the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD). The total number of people on that have either been dropped from the program, been place on a waiting list or are unable to enroll due to lowered eligibility is at least 7,415. The breakdown is as follow:

  • 6,689 on waiting lists (as reported by NASTAD)
  • 445 people dropped (also reported by NASTAD)
  • 281 people unable to enroll because of lowered eligibility (This figure is likely higher because AHF’s estimate is based on enrollment figures from FY2009, the most recent full-year data available.)

“It is important to make this message clear to Gilead employees, as hard-hit government-funded programs like ADAP bare the brunt of Gilead’s greed,” said Eileen Garcia, Community Outreach Manager for AHF and one of the protest’s leaders. “Atripla is one of Gilead’s top selling AIDS drugs, and as such accounts for over 20% of ADAP expenditures and brings in millions in revenue for the company. Today, the cost of this single drug is over $10,000 per year, and ADAP simply cannot afford to pay for this as well as other AIDS drugs without price relief. Given that Atripla is sold ‘at cost’ for $600 per year in developing countries, Gilead could lower its price significantly, while continuing to make a large profit, yet it has not done so.”

Background on ADAP

With state budgets stretched thin and increasing numbers of unemployed workers without health insurance, many states have been forced to cap enrollment in their AIDS Drug Assistance Programs. Currently, there are nearly 6,689 individuals on waiting lists to receive lifesaving AIDS medications in twelve states. Hundreds of patients in need are being added to the waiting list each week. In addition, thousands more Americans living with HIV/AIDS have been dropped from the program or made ineligible to receive medications through ADAP due to stricter eligibility requirements.

Nationwide, ADAPs serve over 165,000 people, accounting for one third of people on AIDS treatment in the U.S. Unfortunately, the need for these programs expands every year, as more and more people become infected and diagnosed with HIV/AIDS; each year thousands of newly diagnosed HIV patients turn to ADAPs because they cannot afford their medicines.

“The nation’s network of AIDS Drug Assistance Programs face desperate circumstances due to the high prices of drugs like Gilead’s Atripla. AHF is willing to work in partnership with Gilead toward solutions for ADAP and to create and foster dialogue with the community. However, as long as companies like Gilead continue to pursue pricing policies that conflict with the greater good, as well as the health and well-being of the public, we will not stop asking for change,” said Dale Gluth, AHF’s Associate Regional Director, Bay Area.

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