Who's Afraid of a Little AIDS Vaccine?
Thanks to a recent scientific discovery, an inoculation that could kill HIV is within our reach. But will our distrust of the medical community keep us from welcoming it with open arms?
But researchers and Big Pharma must play a role to ensure that shift happens. They need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they have our best interests in mind. And that won't be easy. Because while ''the money's in the medicine, not in the cure,'' like Chris Rock once joked, there are billions of dollars to be made for the first pharmaceutical company that patents and distributes an AIDS vaccine worldwide.
Greed is no conspiracy theory; it's the American way. And that's what really scares us.
So I have this to say to the medical-pharmaceutical industry: To gain our trust, vow that our lives trump a gigantic profit. Swear that you will end any trial if the participants' health is being jeopardized. Promise us that you won't do what GlaxoSmithKline was accused of doing: hiding ''unsavory'' data and documents from the FDA in order to get its diabetes drug Avandia approved and sold to an unsuspecting public.
Also remember to work smarter and better with African-American organizations, leaders and AIDS groups in order to educate the community. Listen to them and learn from past mistakes made in the recruitment of blacks for HIV-vaccine trials. Also, make sure that these public-health lessons are peer-led initiatives and incorporate respectful and culturally competent information. No more sending condescending ''token'' black employees into safe havens like Harlem's Schomburg Center to speak to the community.
Most important, remember that sometimes the biggest teachable moments happen in the doctor's office. Physicians: It's not a secret that many of you are underpaid and overworked. But for those who rush in and out of the examination room, barely looking patients in their eyes; get frustrated because folks are asking ''too many'' questions; or quickly scribble down a prescription without explanation, you are part of the problem.
Because providing inadequate and inferior health care only perpetuates the cycle of distrust.
In the end, reconciling our past with our hopes for an epidemic-free future is no small feat. But hopefully, when an AIDS vaccine is ready -- at both the clinical and distribution stages -- that much-needed work will be long under way. Because when it's time for me to roll up my sleeves and do my part for humanity, the only real fear I want to face is the one I have for needles.