Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations
Uganda to Receive Discounted Antiretroviral Drugs
Uganda and the United Nations announced a plan on Friday to bring antiretroviral drugs to the tens of thousands of Ugandans who have not been able to afford them, marking "a positive turn in the vitriolic confrontation that led many Africans to charge that drug companies had abandoned their humanitarian responsibilities in the name of profit," the Boston Globe reports. Under the plan, pharmaceutical giants have agreed to cut their antiretroviral drug prices up to 66% in Uganda, with German drug maker Boehringer Ingelheim offering nevirapine free of charge for five years to combat vertical HIV transmission. In return, Uganda will "upgrade its medical infrastructure" to ensure safe transportation and administration of the medications. Ben Plumley of UNAIDS said, "Uganda is at the forefront. Access to drugs is key, but there are no shortcuts. The whole question of antiretroviral treatment has to be put in the broader context. There's no point giving an individual a drug and then sending him back out into an unsupportive atmosphere." Uganda has served as a model for AIDS policy in Africa, as national officials urged citizens to learn how to protect themselves while "most governments covered the disease with a blanket of silence," the Globe reports. As a result, Uganda is the only African country with a successful statistical record: The rate of new HIV cases has dropped from 30% in 1992 to 12% in 1999 in urban areas, with the "most notable" decline observed in the "most vulnerable group" of people between the ages of 15 and 29. It is because of this national awareness of AIDS that Uganda is "in a position to distribute antiretroviral treatment without significant risk," McKinsey & Co. Associate Principal David Fine said. However, as Uganda has only five medical centers equipped for proper dispersion of the drugs, treatment expansion would be a "slow process," Fine noted, adding that the "key to expanding treatment without catastrophically overloading the health care system ... is to use price to control demand." The McKinsey report found that for about $5 million, the government could "upgrade enough clinics" in other urban areas to reach 50,000 people. In May, five major antiretroviral drug makers, including Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Glaxo Wellcome, Merck & Co. and Hoffmann-La Roche, announced their intentions to "explore practical and specific ways ... to accelerate access to
HIV/AIDS-related care and treatment in developing countries," and offered steep drug discounts to sub-Saharan African nations. Since then, 15 African countries and Chile have expressed interest in working with UNAIDS to obtain cheaper medications (Shillinger, Boston Globe, 12/1).
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