AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) is publicly criticizing pharma giant Pfizer for its shortage of the syphilis medication Bicillin L-A, which is recommended to treat pregnant women at risk of passing the infection to their newborns.

“There is simply no excuse for a company the size of Pfizer not being able to keep an important drug like Bicillin in good supply,” said Michael Weinstein, AHF president, in a press release from the group.

This is the second time Pfizer has had a shortage of the med, according to the press release. And the shortfall is particularly alarming because it arrives as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that sexually transmitted infections (STIs, or STDs), including syphilis, are at an unprecedented high (for more about the report, read this POZ article.)

STIs can facilitate the transmission of HIV.

According to data in the AHF press release, the annual number of syphilis cases among women in California more than doubled from 248 cases to 594 from 2012 to 2014.  


“Pregnant women with syphilis are at particular risk of passing infection on to newborns if Pfizer’s medication Bicillin L-A is not available,” said Michael Wohlfeiler, MD, chief of medicine/U.S. for AHF, in the press release. “Alternative therapies to treat and cure syphilis are less effective in most cases due to patient adherence issues and tend not to curtail the disease as quickly as injection. Bicillin L-A is also the only medical treatment recommended for pregnant women with syphilis and Pfizer has the exclusive patent on the medication.” 


For related news, read the POZ article “People With HIV and Other High-Risk Groups Should Test for Syphilis Quarterly.”