Johnson & Johnson Denying Poor People Access to Critical AIDS Drugs

Every hour, around 30 children die of AIDS. On its corporate website, Johnson & Johnson makes a big deal about its “Giving in HIV/AIDS,” claiming to “work to prevent the spread of HIV and reduce the burden of AIDS on women and their families.” However, the Stop AIDS Campaign tells a different story. Johnson & Johnson is one of the few major pharmaceutical companies that is still refusing to negotiate with the Medicines Patent Pool to ensure that people waiting for life-saving HIV medicines can access them. Since Johnson & Johnson holds patents for some of the most vital and costly HIV drugs, their refusal to enter negotiations with the pool effectively cuts off access to these drugs for those who need it the most.

How the Patent Pool Ensures More People Are Treated

The Medicines Patent Pool is an organization dedicated to “increasing access to quality, safe, efficacious, more appropriate and affordable medicines, focusing on HIV/AIDS.” The Medicines Patent Pool website describes how it works:

With the patent pool model, multiple patents are ‘pooled’ and licensed out by one entity, in order to cut down on transaction costs for all parties involved.  In the case of medicines, this allows more affordable and more adapted versions of patented drugs to be produced as generics, long before their 20-year patent terms run out.

The Pool is a win-win-win model, whereby patent holders are compensated for sharing their patents, generic manufacturers gain access to markets, and patients benefit more swiftly from appropriate and adapted medicines at more affordable prices.

The website provides further details, including a step-by-step walkthrough describing the process from negotiations with the patent holder through to the creation of sustainable low prices, meaning that more people can be treated for the same sum of money.

The Two Faces of Johnson & Johnson

According to Johnson & Johnson, it is already providing its HIV/AIDS medication to patients in sub-Saharan Africa at 85% less than the commercial price in the United States (via a royalty-free voluntary license agreement Aspen Pharmaceuticals, a South African Company). The discounted price amounts to $3 per day, or more than $1000 per year. According to the New Internationalist, if Johnson & Johnson joins the Medicines Patent Pool, the price of some HIV treatments would be reduced from around $1000 per year to less than $100 per year. Since Johnson & Johnson isn’t selling a lot of drugs in those countries at the moment, opening up its patent to allow for the production of inexpensive versions of its drugs for those most in need would not have a big impact on the company’s profits.

Johnson & Johnson’s refusal to enter into negotiations with the patent pool and find a solution that could truly save lives stands in stark contrast to its corporate “social good” campaigns. Johnson & Johnson is one of the main sponsors of the Million Moms Challenge, which is “engaging a million Americans with millions of mothers in the developing world around issues that directly impact pregnancy, childbirth, and children’s health.” It has promised to donate $1 for each person who signs on to the campaign, up to a grand total of $100,000 (or, on other pages, the campaign indicates that Johnson & Johnson will donate $100,000 if 100,000 people sign on — meaning 100,000 appears to be both the minimum and the maximum number). The call to action doesn’t indicate whether that number has been reached, how close they are, or what happens to your e-mail address once you sign on.

While a donation of $100,000 would certainly be useful, the impact of that donation (and all of the hype around it) is a drop in the bucket in comparison with both:

Could J&J Switch from “Tokenistic Efforts” To Joining a True Solution?

According to the Stop AIDS Campaign, Johnson & Johnson is expected to announce on December 19th whether it will change its position and join the patent pool. Rachel Edwards, a student member of the Stop AIDS Campaign said:

One of the problems in the past has been companies making small, tokenistic efforts to ease access to treatment. The Medicines Patent Pool is a solution which aims to be industry-wide, matching the scale of the challenge. If J&J’s decision is negative we won’t stop campaigning – with so many millions waiting for HIV treatment we will keep pressuring J&J to join until they change their mind.

This is the type of pressure that is needed. Rather than a token sign-on to an campaign that may result in an $100,000 donation, consider being part of a campaign that will get J&J to change its practices. Demand a solution, not a much-too-small band-aid.

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Photo credit: jimcintosh on flickr


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

Thanks.. I'd have to research it more to make a judgement.

Access T.
Access T.6 years ago

It isn't just Johnson and Johnson that does not see the value of licensing to the Pool. Click here to read more about the 150 patients, NGOs and advocates who are publicly protesting the Pool's licenses:

George Marshall
George Marshall6 years ago

It is interesting how many articles demonize corporations - and expecially make the point that they are not human. I agree that they should not be treated as persons, but they do employ them. And what is wrong with a company making a profit - that is how companies survive and hire more people. You boycott, people lose jobs, economy gets worse, everyone suffers. Yes, expose the corporations' wrong-doings, but do not attack a capitalistic system, unless youhave something to replace it with.

Andrew Carvin
Andrew Carvin6 years ago

Artificial Scarcity occurs when the supply of X is controlled to make it scarce on purpose when the reality is that the supply of X is virtually unlimited. This is usually done to make X worth more than it really is, and thus increase profits for those who are the purveyors of X.

The easiest example of this is food. Every year millions of tons of food end up in landfills because the stores that bought it were not able to sell it. They rather throw it away to keep food scarce/expensive than give the food to those who need it for free. By doing so they create an artificial scarcity of food.

The largest example of artificial scarcity is the supply of money. Money is nothing more than metal/paper with fancy pictures on it, and has no intrinsic value accept what we give it. If we are experiencing financial problems we should either print more, or throw the entire concept of money in the garbage.

How morally bereft do you have to be to openly advocate the needless suffering/deaths of millions of people over the artificial scarcity of metal/paper with fancy pictures on it?

Marie Kovar
Marie K6 years ago

You know with all the bad politics as well as the bad ideas, and chemicals that destroy the world that companies use in their products. I would love to find a store that sells only good stuff. Totally organic, totally safe for me, the environment right down to the packaging. It could be called Mother Earth and they sell only food, cleaning products, toys and clothing we can feel good about buying. I am so tired of having to read labels to see if it has palm oil, or if it's boxed in cardboard that was so much post consumer, or didn't destroy an acre to make. But no I have to read every time I turn around that this product I have been buying for years is bad, or that this company uses child labor. We are supposed to be a smart country, we need jobs, we need the economy to be better for all. So why do companies make us jump hoops for stuff we need only to make us regret we believed in them, bought from them, only to regret we did. If companies really cared, a store like this would not be needed. We could buy where we like knowing we have good companies in the USA watching for us, and others. We want the USA to be strong, then USA companies, stand out and be good for us, our kids & our planet.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G6 years ago

These big corporations need to have some humbling experiences... boycott them!

Shirley Marsh
Shirley Marsh6 years ago

So, what's new? This is a surprise?

Sue H.
Sue H6 years ago

I've been boycotting J&J since the 70's. If people would stop buying their products and sell off
their stock, perhaps J&J would get the message??? Greed is so ugly.

Wileen C.
W. C6 years ago


Marilyn L.
Marilyn L6 years ago