UNAIDS Calls on Drugmakers to Reduce Prices for Developing Nations
Multinational pharmaceutical companies need to "strike 'a new deal' with society" and significantly reduce prices on their patented antiretroviral drugs for developing nations so that more people have access to "lifesaving AIDS medicines," UNAIDS said in a statement to be released today in Geneva, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Dr. Peter Piot, director of UNAIDS, stated, "In the North, in return for innovation, intellectual property is protected and profits are made. This has benefited both Northern shareholders and society. But it doesn't work for the South, where 95% of the world's population of 36.1 million with HIV/AIDS lives." An estimated 25 million people are infected with HIV in Africa, but fewer than 1% have access to HIV/AIDS drugs, which cost between $10,000 and $15,000 in the United States per patient each year. Last May, five drug firms -- Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Hoffman-La Roche Inc. -- announced a plan to discount their drugs up to 80% for African nations, but their treatments are still "largely unaffordable" and nine months later, the companies have only contracted to provide lower-cost drugs with three countries, Senegal, Uganda, and Rwanda. UNAIDS spokesperson Ben Plumley said yesterday that the drug industry program would extend drugs to only 900 people in Senegal, out of an estimated 79,000 people living with HIV there; to 1,500 Ugandans out of 820,000 infected and to "hundreds" in Rwanda out of 400,000 infected. In the statement, Piot called for "radical solutions" to make treatment available to the developing world, including tiered pricing, open competition between brand-name and generic drugs in permitting countries, bulk purchases of AIDS medicines by large regions and "dramatically increased" financing by the West to subsidize the purchase of AIDS medicines in poor nations. Merck spokesperson Jeffrey Sturchio responded, "We agree with UNAIDS that there needs to be a way to scale up, we agree there needs to be a sense of urgency, we agree we need to do more." However, he added, "Let's not lose sight of the fact that the pharmaceutical industry, and Merck in particular, has been significantly involved in drug discovery and we need to continue to do that." Sturchio said the slow negotiations with African countries were "due largely to the countries themselves, which are trying to put together comprehensive plans for AIDS treatment and prevention," and noted that about 35 other nations are "in the queue" hoping to work with the drug companies (Collins, Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/15).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.