Inside the Merck Company Foundation's HIV Care Collaborative

Through its Foundation, Merck -- an official family member of Big Pharma -- has committed $3 million to local health departments in select cities to "address remaining barriers to HIV care" in the United States. With an estimated 50,000 new HIV diagnoses in the United States each year, the Merck Company should be applauded for its efforts, but they shouldn't go patting themselves on the back just yet. 

In 2012, the Merck Company Foundation made its HIV Care Collaborative announcement to benefit the cities of Atlanta, Houston, and Philadelphia. These cities were chosen because they make up three of the 10 cities in the United States with the highest number of HIV/AIDS infections. Merck's HIV Care Collaborative is a shared effort made in conjunction with the public health departments of these three cities to promote HIV/AIDS awareness, provide information on local health care system for people with HIV, and to improve the quality of care for HIV patients. As the old song goes, There's a hole in the bucket…

The Merck Company Foundation should be applauded because of their ongoing commitment to education, which helps lead to the prevention of HIV. It is important work. But no mention is made in Merck's HIV Care Collaborative of lowering prices for the antiretroviral medications produced by Merck that are necessary to help treat and manage HIV. One HIV medication made by the company costs an average of $13,000 per year. According to Dr. Michael Kolber, a professor of medicine and director of the Comprehensive AIDS Program and Adult HIV Services at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida, the average yearly costs for HIV medication ranges from $14,000 to $20,000. That's just the medication, people — that estimation does not include the cost of doctor's visits or lab work.

The people living with HIV which the Merck HIV Care Collaborative is serving live in low-income communities. They can't possibly find an extra $20,000 a year to pay for their HIV meds. On the other side of the argument, pharmaceutical research is expensive, and if Merck drops the price for the HIV meds, it's possible that they would face the same issue with medications used to treat other illnesses (read Merck Foundation president Geralynn Ritter's IP profile). That's not to say that Merck couldn't afford to drop its prices for HIV meds, because it does — just not in the United States. There's a hole in the bucket...