February is Black History Month, and here at PhRMA, we continue our decades-long commitment to reducing disparities in health care for minorities through developing and helping communities access innovative medicines and cures.
When we look at the African-American community in the United States, there are two diseases in particular where we have had great success in biopharmaceutical science resulting in longer, healthier lives: hypertension and HIV/AIDS.
The prevalence of high blood pressure (hypertension) in black Americans is among the highest in the world, and it is increasing. As a result, blacks have a 1.5-times greater rate of death attributable to heart disease than whites. Across the landscape of biopharmaceutical research, innovative medicines have had profound effects in reducing heart disease deaths by more than 30 percent over the last two decades – innovation that directly benefits those in the African-American community who do suffer from high blood pressure.
In the case of HIV and AIDS, it was not long ago that the disease claimed the lives of 72 African Americans each day. Today, safe and effective antiretroviral medications suppress the virus and prolong the lives of those living with HIV, turning what was once a death sentence into a manageable chronic disease. The National Institutes of Health reports that a person living with HIV on antiretroviral therapy can expect to live a nearly normal lifespan. With the virus suppressed, the chance of transmitting the disease is negligible. Those who are HIV negative are able to take a daily pill – PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) – that helps prevent infection, and there is an HIV preventive vaccine currently in clinical trial. These innovations in medicine are remarkable in a disease that is only 35 years old and can inform how other infectious diseases are researched and treated through medications and therapies. As a result, we have seen the death rate from AIDS in the United States reduced by more than 70 percent, and in the African-American community specifically, the death rate per 1,000 persons living with HIV has decreased 28 percent between 2008 and 2012.
As we look ahead to the frontier of new prescription drug innovations to come, diabetes is one that stands to have a profound effect on the lives of African Americans. The American Diabetes Association reports that by the year 2050, one in three adults in the United States will have diabetes. African Americans are 70 percent more likely to have diabetes as compared to non-Hispanic Caucasians. We are excited about the 171 new medicines in development for type 1 and type 2 diabetes and related conditions such as chronic kidney disease, as well as the work many researchers are doing toward finding a cure.
This is all good news, but it’s not enough. We must work harder on eliminating regulatory hurdles so we can bring innovative cures and treatments to patients. We must ensure funding for basic, translational and clinical research on the front end to ease the burden on government programs and family finances on the back end. And we must ensure fair and equal access to care and quality of care for people of color.
We will continue our work with Congress and the administration on policies related to access to care that we know – and data shows – unfairly impact minority communities, including:
- Access to affordable health insurance;
- Rising costs of health insurance premiums;
- Rising costs of out-of-pocket health care expenses;
- Coverage for unplanned medical bills, especially hospital stays and ER visits;
- Affordability of and access to prescribed medications;
- Research addressing genetic differences in disease for African Americans; and
- Greater diversity and inclusion in clinical trials.
Black History Month is one month of the year, but PhRMA is committed to working with stakeholders to ensure these issues are highlighted year around. We honor this month as a time of reflection, respect and commitment to fair and equal access to health care, medicines and quality of life for the millions of patients across America who rely on medicine and therapies to survive and thrive.
Myisha Gatson Myisha M. Gatson is former senior director of advocacy and strategic alliances for PhRMA.