AIDS: The Drug Companies are Winning the Image Game

By JAYSON BLAIR New York Times August 5th 2001

"Going the Distance" reads the advertisement, which shows four mountain climbers bursting with health, and promotes an anti- AIDS drug manufactured by Merck . What's wrong with that?

    Plenty, according to the Food and Drug Administration, which recently ordered that the Merck ad, as well as those of other companies featuring robust young men heaving javelins, riding bikes and crewing on sailboats, be pulled. Such portrayals, said the F.D.A., were "not generally representative of H.I.V. patients and do not adequately convey that these drugs neither cure H.I.V. infection nor reduce its transmission."...

     Disinformation has been spread by the advertising used to promote anti-AIDS drugs, said Natasha Jenkins, an infectious disease market analyst in London for Datamonitor Healthcare, which does research for drug company advertising campaigns.

    Since 1997, when the F.D.A. first allowed drug companies to market directly to consumers, "They have made it seem like there is a cure and a lot of people have stopped taking the same precautions because they feel that AIDS is being controlled by drugs," said Ms. Jenkins.

    "There is obviously a tradeoff in wanting and letting people know that there are treatments for H.I.V. infection," Dr. Validiserri, of the C.D.C., added. "But we also don't want to go so far that we minimize what is still a lifelong, incurable disease."...

    "The numbers make it seem as if we had found a cure, but it is really just that the drug companies are winning the image game," Ms. Sinnock said. "Whether it is the America Responds to AIDS campaign or the more recent ads by the drug companies, we have a history of creating misconceptions that have made this disease more difficult to fight on the ground level."