Does the name Dr. Krisana Kraisintu ring a bell? (If it doesn't, then it's a shame it doesn't)

A review of Cocktail: A Play about the Life and HIV Drug Development Work of Dr. Krisana Kraisintu by Vince LiCata and Ping Chong


Truth be told, I don't read plays very often, if at all. In fact, I'm ashamed to admit that I think the last one I read was back in high school long ago, and if I remember correctly had something to do with vampires - ironic in that vampires at the time were not so popular. But this play was about something I am interested in - medicine and social responsibility - and it was referred to by a friend, who also happened to be one of the authors.

Coincidentally, I read it on my way to Lagos, Nigeria, a place where access to medicine has its own battles. I was going to help facilitate a scientific training workshop, a workshop that would hopefully provide some knowledge to young biologists, many of which were hungry for ideas in their hunt for answers to malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, etc. On that flight, the similarity of scope of what I was reading and what I was heading off to was not lost on me.

In fact, it was much needed. It's never easy to leave home, your family, for an extended period of time. More so, when you're traveling to a place where the culture shock is expressed in the lack of the first world luxuries you're used to. I needed to read the play - because in many ways, it reminded me of why I was going in the first place - that there was value in doing my small part.

To say that Dr. Krisana Kraisintu did a small part would be close to slander. Her actions have saved tens of thousands of lives, likely much more. She was responsible for directly going against governments, against pharmaceutical companies, against international laws even, to formulate and produced GPO-VIR. This is a generic fixed-dose combination of stavudine, lamivudine and nevirapine for treatment of advanced HIV infection, but more importantly represents the first generic HIV cocktail. To say that this took guts would be a great understatement.

Dr. Krisana: The fact that people are dying today from a treatable disease is not a hypothetical situation. Children are -

Brighton Miles Pharmaceuticals Executive 1 (BMP1): Ah, the children.

BMP3: The children!

BMP2: The children.

BMP6: The children.

BMP4: Always the children. (to BMP2) Breath mint?

BMP2: No thanks. You can't fight the dying children.

BMP1: There's no way.

BMP5: It just shuts off all useful discourse.

BMP2: It's grandstanding, plain and simple. How do you trump a dying child?

BMP1: You can't.

BMP3: You can't.

BMP6: You can't.

BMP4: It just shuts down the conversation every time.

BMP2: Why, if I had a nickel for every dying child...

BMP1: You'd be rich my friend, you'd be rich.

You learn this when you read the play, and in doing so you learn a little more about the biology of HIV, about the politics and economics of health. And in a way that a news report or textbook can't emulate, you learn about the devastation of what a disease like HIV can do.

You also learn a little about Dr. Kraisintu, about what compels her to do what she does. In doing so, you are given a rare glimpse into the mindset of an individual who chooses to make many sacrifices for what they believe is right. This reminded me of another outstanding book, referred to me by no less than Stephen Lewis - Mountains Beyond Mountains: here, you lived within the head of Paul Farmer, another individual whose world is enveloped in activism. The parallels are striking and it makes me think that Dr. Kraisintu deserves to be up there with the likes of the Paul Farmers and Stephen Lewis' of the world. It clear that they tick in the same manner, and it is both admirable and eye opening.

These are the perspectives you get when you read this play, and for that reason, I highly recommend you doing that. I haven't actually seen the play performed. Not yet anyway. But wouldn't that be something?

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