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War on AIDS....For Real, This Time

 

Background

The war against HIV/AIDS is finally being waged, after years of only a measured response. The early trickle of dollars and National Institutes of Health (NIH) attention has progressed to very substantial Federal and private funding for research into the disease and its cure in recent years. The Federal government alone now spends about $3 billion per year on HIV/AIDS research.

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But is the Federal government taking the most effective approach? Although Federal funding for HIV/AIDS research has roughly doubled over the past ten years, the question remains whether the Federal government is doing all that it can do, in the right way. In this life-or-death struggle with huge personal and societal costs and public health ramifications, it is incumbent upon our government to creatively and completely implement strategies for success. When considering the toll which HIV/AIDS is taking on populations worldwide (estimated by the World Health Organization to reach 2.9 million deaths and 4.3 million newly infected people in 2006), particularly its decimation of communities and countries in Africa and Asia and its recent 70% rise over two years in infection rates in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the need to do more is urgent and imperative.

In terms of dollars, it appears that our government is doing quite a lot. But since there is still no cure, by that fact alone, it is not enough.

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Ideas / Solutions

Despite the influx of research, treatment, and other funding that has been flowing, at least one idea that has not been tried is sure to generate action in our profit-oriented society. Historically, when a murder has been committed, the government offered a reward of thousands of dollars for the capture of the murderer. So, since AIDS has killed more than 500,000 Americans, and an estimated 1.5 million others are infected with HIV, it is time for the government to offer a reward of millions. Considering that the total worldwide deaths have exceeded 25 million, the case for serious action is exponentially magnified.

A $200 million reward -- or bounty -- for an AIDS cure is sure to enlist the participation of many more of the world's best scientists, institutions, and businesses. It would set off a feverishly paced effort to develop solutions. Such a reward, though huge, would still be cost-effective when recognizing that it is only a fraction of one year's spending on research. When considering the multi-year future savings that would have been spent on research and treatment, a one-time payment of that magnitude amounts to a tremendous bargain.

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The traditional financial incentive for pharmaceutical companies is that, once they develop a cure, they will be able to sell it to millions, recoup their R&D expenses, and earn millions of dollars on future sales of their product. That is a long-term proposition. A bounty, however, is a short-term financial incentive, as they would not have to wait for years of sales to achieve their rewards. By offering a bounty in addition to the expected long-term remuneration, corporations will be maximally encouraged to go full throttle toward finding a cure. Additionally, universities and other research institutions, which are not situated to reap future profits from manufacturing, will finally have a true financial incentive to dedicate their greatest possible resources to the effort, as they could license their discovery or share the bounty from a partnership with a company.

The first of many vaccines and cures could be expected not long thereafter.

 
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