HIV :: AHF counters GSK ads that promote fear of HIV treatment

AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest AIDS healthcare, prevention and education provider in the United States and operator of free AIDS treatment clinics in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean and Asia unveiled a public awareness campaign targeting negative direct-to-consumer advertising of HIV/AIDS drugs by pharmaceutical companies.

AHF?s campaign?which appears this week starting today with print ads appearing in publications including the Village Voice and L.A. Weekly?seeks to draw public attention to the insidious nature of certain pharmaceutical industry advertising campaigns that claim to educate patients on specific diseases, but in reality are little more than fear-based ads that continue the industry?s relentless marketing and profit-maximizing efforts. Recent drug industry projections suggest that the worldwide market for HIV/AIDS drugs is set to exceed $10 billion in the next few years.

The initial focus of AHF?s new awareness campaign is a series of GlaxoSmithKline?s (GSK) so-called ?help seeking? print advertisements that have appeared in national publications over the past year. The GSK ads purport to alert the public to awareness of kidney disease as a possible side effect of HIV disease and its treatment. This series of ads feature a single, presumed HIV patient, seated on a bus bench with text that reads, ?He knows he has HIV. He doesn?t know his HIV puts him at risk for kidney disease.? Underneath, in smaller print, the ad states, ?Ask your doctor about your risk factors and the impact that HIV and its treatment may have on your kidneys.? The image also includes two shapes or figures placed on the bus bench to suggest or represent the individual?s kidneys.

?At first glance, these GSK ads appear to warn HIV patients?and HIV-infected individuals who may not yet be on treatment?of the potential for kidney disease among people living with HIV/AIDS,? said AHF President Michael Weinstein. ?In fact, while kidney disease may be a consequence of HIV and its treatment, these GSK ads are a thinly-veiled attempt to maintain market share for one of GSK?s own AIDS treatments by scaring patients away from competing treatments which are associated with a slightly higher risk of kidney disease. Targeting risks associated with a competing company?s products does nothing to educate the patient about the potential efficacy and safety of the company?s own drugs. This kind of underhanded negative advertising creates fear of HIV treatment in general, which could dissuade people from seeking treatment at all. This tactic only elicits and amplifies fears and doubts patients may already have about anti-retroviral therapy in general, making it harder for their doctors to treat them.?

?Effective treatments for HIV disease often carry risks of moderate to severe side effects in small percentages of patients, and it is important for patients and their providers to work together to make treatment decisions independent of drug industry advertising that might compromise the doctor/patient relationship and potentially the health of the patient,? said Dr. Charles Farthing, AHF?s Chief of Medicine.

AHF brought these concerns to GSK in a series of correspondence over the past several months. The drug company denied AHF?s interpretation of GSK?s ads. GSK believes there is an important role for ?disease awareness advertising,? particularly concerning life-threatening conditions. GSK went on to state that such ads are appropriate to focus patients? attention on the potential for serious and life-threatening co-morbidities, such as kidney disease, so that patients can have an informed discussion with their healthcare providers. AHF agrees with the importance of disease awareness education and, in fact, does not object to pharmaceutical company-sponsored messages aimed directly at patients, but advocates that these messages be limited to ?help seeking? messages that educate the patient on a specific disease. However, true help seeking advertising should provide balanced information, and not attempt to push patients toward?or away?from any specific drug, as GSK appears to be doing in these kidney disease ads.

“If GSK’s true intention, through its disease awareness advertising, is to educate patients on harmful side effects of HIV treatment, it should also include information on abacavir hypersensitivity reactions, a more common (5-8%) and potentially fatal side effect of its own drug abacavir, and which is a component of GSK’s own HIV treatments ?Epzicom,? and ?Trizivir,? added AHF?s Dr. Farthing. ?AHF does not advocate for one particular treatment over another; it is AHF?s position that the risks associated with all antiretroviral treatments be thoughtfully evaluated and considered along with the potential lifesaving benefits of the drugs or treatments available.?

In reality, the direct-to-consumer marketing strategies GSK and other drug manufacturers currently employ attempt to insert themselves into conversations that should remain between a doctor and patient regarding prescribing decisions. The sophistication of the virus that causes AIDS, which invades each person?s immune system differently, necessitates highly individualized drug regimens. Appropriate treatment requires a thorough understanding of the array of medications available and must be left in the hands of specially trained physicians in concert with their patients.

?Any thinly-veiled efforts by Pharma to educate consumers on health issues should be recognized for what they are: marketing strategies with the sole goal of increasing drug company profits. AHF urges patients not to let multi-billion dollar drug company marketing executives influence what?s best for you and your health. Building a good relationship and open and honest dialogue between patients and their doctors are the best ways to ensure optimal treatment for HIV and favorable health outcomes,? said AHF President Michael Weinstein.

For its current public awareness campaign highlighting GSK?s AIDS drug advertising tactics, AHF created a print ad utilizing GSK?s own ad. It its ad, AHF placed yellow notes over the GSK ad revealing the ?between the lines? interpretation of GSK?s marketing strategy masked as a disease awareness campaign. AHF believes that GSK?s efforts through this ad are emblematic of the drug industry?s ongoing and overall reliance on marketing and advertising to compensate for the industry?s lack of innovation.

In a recent joint Declaration on ?Relevant Health Information for Empowered Citizens?, issued in October 2006, the ?International Society of Drug Bulletins? (ISDB), a global organization that monitors and advocates for responsible dissemination of drug information, together with other concerned partners, chastised the drug industry for presenting drug marketing and promotion as ?information.? The Declaration noted that, ?…the pharmaceutical industry cannot be expected to provide reliable comparisons with other drug treatments, non-drug treatments and the not-to-treat option. Hence DTCA (Direct to Consumer Advertising) masquerades as ?information?, but is simply promotion to maximise sales. Regulation of these areas of activity are vague or non-pro-active, and the sanctions imposed are often meaningless.?

Officials from AIDS Healthcare Foundation met with Food and Drug Administration (FDA) representatives last week to discuss this growing trend of negative drug advertising and the FDA?s responsibility to regulate ad content. According to a January report by Bloomberg news, Drug Company spending on direct to consumer advertising totaled more than $4.9 billion in 2006, an $86 million dollar increase over the previous year.


HIV :: AHF counters GSK ads that promote fear of HIV treatment
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