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IdeaFestival: Naveen Jain On 'Pragmatic' Solutions For Health Care Costs

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Laura Ellis
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The Immunity Project wasn't Naveen Jain's first start-up, but it is a particularly personal cause.

Jain is the co-founder and chief marketing officer of Immunity Project, a non-profit dedicated to developing an HIV vaccine and giving it away for free to anyone who needs it. He'll be in Louisville this month for IdeaFestival.

Jain said it was his father's illness that brought his attention to the flaws in the pharmaceutical industry.

"As we were going through this process with him, and he was seeing countless doctors and specialists along the way," Jain said. "It became very clear to me that the way we treat people in our society today — in terms of the pharmaceuticals and treatments that we provide for people — are not often actual solutions. Often times they're Band-Aids. And I think that's really screwed up."

Jain spoke with Jaison Gardner and Kaila Story of WFPL's Strange Fruit program. He will be at the IdeaFestival on Sept. 30, as part of the Staying Relevant session. Here's more information.

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On the profit-driven approach to illness:

"We care a lot for each other, as people. And when we get sick, our friends and our family all rally to help us. Most people know somebody who has had some form of cancer. Think about the amount of energy, and effort, and love and care we give to people who have any sort of illness whatsoever. And then on the flip side, it's somehow OK for us to end up spending tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of dollars on lifesaving drugs, on the other side of it. There's very little compassion when there's a profit motive."

On why the project will give away the vaccine for free:

"We need to be pragmatic in terms of making sure people have access to drugs at a reasonable price. And in the case of HIV, the majority of people who are living with HIV are impoverished. These are people in developing countries, even people here who are living with HIV — the over 1 million people who are living with HIV in the United States. I think we should focus on solving problems, we should focus on helping the people around us, and we should do in the best economic fashion as we can."

Laura is LPM's Director of Podcasts & Special Projects. Email Laura at lellis@lpm.org.