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A letter from an alumnus about Amy Kapczynski ’96 and AIDS

March 17, 2002

Regarding Amy Kapczynski ’96 (class note feature, March 13), AIDS in Africa is a biological holocaust. The richer, healthier nations should be providing far more money, medicine, and other forms of help. So Amy Kapczynski’s activism — pressuring a drug maker to forgo patent protection in South Africa and thus permit cheaper generic forms — is well intended. I hope her efforts do much good.

But the article about her is flawed. Reporters must present both sides; in this case, the author presents only one. She establishes Bristol-Myers Squibb as the other side and implies that the company, profit-driven, resisted until it caved in to public opinion. How profitable any health care enterprise ought to be is an important question, but the writer should have reported BMS’s perspective. If she had learned about the company’s HIV/AIDS programs and its initiatives to get therapies to poor Africans, she would have given readers a fuller, truer picture.

As a consultant to drug-makers, including BMS’s Pharmaceutical Research Institute, I know two things. First, to discover, make, test, gain approval for, and market drugs requires lots of people, time, money, and science. Second, if the pubic sector does not subsidize the creation and provision of medicines, there will no drugs without profits and no profits without patents.

To oversimplify is to distort, and there’s no surer cause of over-simplification than not to tell both sides.

Richard Trenner ’70
Princeton, N.J.

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