April 16, 2003
"People for whatever reason -- they die, they change their regimen, they never took the medicine -- they give it to us," explained Venezuelan-born Jesus Aguais, founder of Aid for AIDS. In addition, some patients donate the drugs they do not take during physician-sanctioned drug "holidays." Aguais started the agency in 1996 with only three patients: Today, it has 520 patients.
After the donor's name is removed from the label on the bottle, donated medicines are carefully inventoried and sorted. Every foreign patient who applies for assistance undergoes a medical assessment, because the program's small store of medicines is best spent on those who closely adhere to the strict treatment schedules HIV drug therapies require. Working via fax and e-mail with doctors in the client's home country, Program Director Dr. Jaime Valencia reviews application forms that outline prospective clients' proof of HIV status, current medical history, and CD4 immune-cell blood counts.
Priority is given to AIDS activists and educators, "people who are making a difference in their countries," Aguais stressed. This way, donated medicines do more than just keep individual patients alive -- they also help prevent new infections, as individuals helped by the agency promote HIV prevention. Once accepted into the program, clients must submit CD4 counts every six months so Valencia can chart their progress and adherence.
"We have complete control over where these medicines go," Aguais said. Because there are currently no U.S. laws allowing or prohibiting the export of donated medicines, he said it is important from a legal standpoint "to know who the patients are." He said abuse of the program (such as reselling donated medicines) is almost nonexistent, due to close bonds that have formed over time between the New York office and trusted doctors in the Americas and Africa.