‘It was 20 years ago today’


My ears perked up this evening as I overheard the BBC World Service news, coming from the living room television around the corner from my desk.

“It was twenty years ago today”, the announcer read…

BBC ON THIS DAY 1984

The importance of that news twenty years ago was certainly not earth-shaking to me at the time. I didn’t know about the squabble which would develop between French and American researchers over who first found the virus that leads to AIDS (LAV versus HTLV-III – one in the same and later called HIV). I had only been “out of the closet”, officially, since 1981 – the same year, incidentally, that AIDS was discovered – and I lived in an immortality bubble not unlike most other twenty-four year olds in Canada.

While I don’t have journal entries to refer to I know that I was living in St. Catharines, working as a reporter at CKTB Radio. I had not yet identified my drinking as a “problem” so it is safe to assume that I was imbibing regularly and excessively. I was also very sexually active and, in addition to encounters in “St. Kitts”, I made regular trips to Buffalo and Niagara Falls, New York (where the closest openly-declared gay bar was located) as well as Toronto. Ignorance, reinforced by a good “buzz”, was bliss. I don’t remember when the use of condoms, as a method of AIDS prevention, began to be taken seriously. Yet I doubt that I can attribute my infection to a condom break.

Today (April 23, 2004 that is) was also the day of Abbott Laboratories’ Annual General Meeting in Abbott Park, Illinois. This is the multinational pharmaceutical giant which eight years ago released Norvir, a.k.a. Ritonavir – one of the first protease inhibitors that I went on. The company, in recent months, raised the price of the drug by four hundred – yes 400 – percent. Why? Because of a newer medication – Kaletra – also an Abbott creation, which is one-third Norvir but which only requires one extra Norvir capsule twice daily to boost its younger brother. As Kaletra has found favour among doctors and AIDS patients the amount of Norvir flying off the shelves has been fractioned. Abbott’s solution? Maintain Kaletra’s high price – it is, after all, a new medication and the research costs need to be recouped – but quadruple the per capsule price of Norvir.

This price hike took effect some months ago in Canada and it is, perhaps, due to our better public-private prescription insurance mix here that this has not been raised as a matter of concern here. My insurers, Great-West Life and the Ontario Ministry of Health’s Trillium Drug Program, seem not to have protested the price spike. Maybe they think Norvir is being prescribed in the same quantities. Maybe their bureaucracies have not noticed. I think I’ll write the Minister.

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