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Soc Sci Med. 2007 Mar;64(5):1042-56. Epub 2006 Nov 17.

Market incentives, human lives, and AIDS vaccines.

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Department of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, University of Minnesota, 425 Ford Hall, 224 Church St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA.


For many, an AIDS vaccine holds the promise of intervening in a widespread epidemic because it is not predicated on changing economic structures and social contexts underlying vulnerability to HIV for millions of individuals. Yet 20 years into the AIDS epidemic, there is still no vaccine. Based on interviews of AIDS vaccine researchers, watchdog organizations, and ethics groups from the United States, South Africa, and Kenya conducted between August and December of 2003, this paper explores possible answers to the question of why there is no vaccine, looking in particular at contradictions between a biomedical research industry increasingly driven by market incentives and a disease that primarily affects individuals living in low-income countries with little vaccine purchasing power. Producing a vaccine that could be effective in low-income regions requires new kinds of initiatives that can coordinate research nationally and globally, and circumvent current regulatory mechanisms that dictate against the development and dissemination of low-profit medical technologies. Until such initiatives are supported, however, vaccine research will continue at a devastatingly slow pace at the cost of millions of lives annually.

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