Buyers Clubs: Lessons in Community Care

February 13, 2024

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Medications can be a big part of our HIV and Hep C care, but getting the medications we need can be challenging. In many cases, community members have taken action to support one another while protesting. One example of this response is the creation of buyers clubs.

In 1980s, governments failed to appropriately respond to the AIDS epidemic. Even after identifying the HIV virus, many HIV medications were not approved and accessible. FDA-approval typically took 10 yearsa impractical timeline for many people living with HIV. Taking control of their health, people formed buyers clubs.

Organizers smuggled large amounts of non-FDA approved medications into the United States. Thousands of members paid membership fees to access these medications and most clubs offered medications at the lowest possible prices. Buyers clubs also shared information about HIV and new treatments.

Buyers clubs operated outside of formalized healthcare systems, serving as a form of civil disobedience. While illegal, many depended on these clubs for life-saving medications. They became a crucial way for people to manage their HIV care when governments and healthcare structures fell short. These clubs are an incredible example of community solidarity and support. 

In Vancouver, we have the Davie Buyers Club, which helped people get PrEP before it was provincially funded. Even now, it helps people without provincial coverage get PrEP.

Buyers Clubs have also been created to facilitate access to Hepatitis C treatment. In 2015, the FixHepC buyers club was created in Australia to help people get access to affordable generic Hepatitis C medications and physicians.

Buyers clubs are not without their challenges. They rely on a collective effort to access and distribute large amounts of affordable medications. Running a buyers club involves potential legal, financial, and logistical challenges. For patients, we have to entrust our health and money to others and not all clubs are reliable. Further, language access and financial barriers are still relevant concerns, as many clubs operate only in English and some of us may not be able to afford the membership costs.

While some view buyers clubs as controversial, they highlight gaps in healthcare systems and health justice. Without accessible and affordable HIV and Hep C medications, it is only natural that people mobilize against injustice and create their own solutions. At YouthCO, we’re committed to creating a world where everyone has the same opportunities for well-being. As such, we will continue to call for policies and practices that ensure equitable and universal access to HIV and Hep C care.