Claiming that the Food and Drug Administration has not moved fast enough in approving new AIDS drugs, some patients and their supporters have taken matters into their own hands. The People With AIDS Health Group has set up an elaborate network to import prescription drugs not available in the United States but approved for sale in other countries.
Previously, AIDS patients had to travel abroad and find foreign doctors to prescribe these drugs. The group's plan takes advantage of an FDA policy announced last year that allows people with life-threatening diseases to import personal supplies of drugs approved for sale in other countries but not in the United States.
Meanwhile, Canada has announced an even more radical policy. In February, the Canadian government informed doctors that it will allow patients with life-threatening diseases to obtain any drugs that pharmaceutical companies are willing to sell, even if no country has approved the drugs. The drugs need not be made by Canadian companies; they can be made abroad and exported to Canada. The Canadian program is actually 10 years old, but until the February announcement, most doctors and even many health officials were unaware it existed.
While the program is aimed at Canadian patients, foreigners can take advantage of it also. "No one will stop them at the border," said Dr. Michèle Brill-Edwards of Canada's Bureau of Human Prescription Drugs.
AIDS advocates in the United States expressed surprise and guarded optimism when told of the Canadian program. Michael Callen, a spokesman for the People With AIDS Coalition, told the New York Times, "It's definitely intriguing, but it's so radical it borders on anarchy."