Few HIV-Positive Africans Receiving Treatment Two Years After U.N. Push to Improve Access
Despite a two-year-old effort by the United Nations to improve access to antiretroviral drugs in Africa, only a "tiny fraction" of HIV-positive Africans currently receive treatment, the AP/Chicago Sun-Times reports. According to Medecins Sans Frontieres, 25,000 to 30,000 of the 2.5 million to three million HIV-positive Africans "who would most benefit from" antiretroviral drugs actually receive them. However, drug manufacturers say that the "dramatic" increase in the number of Africans receiving drugs "shows real progress" (Agovino, AP/Chicago Sun-Times, 3/29). In May 2000, UNAIDS launched the Accelerating Access Initiative to help developing nations create "a comprehensive approach to the AIDS crisis." At the end of last year, however, only nine African countries had reached agreement with the organization. "This is just the start of a tremendous undertaking," Dr. Badara Samb, a WHO care adviser who is working with UNAIDS on the initiative, said (Agovino, Associated Press, 3/29). The AP/Sun-Times reports that last year Merck & Co., Bristol-Myers Squibb and Abbott Laboratories agreed to provide their antiretroviral drugs at cost to African nations, dropping the prices of older drugs to as little as 67 cents per day and the prices of newer treatments to as low as $8.70 per day. In addition, Indian generic drug manufacturer Cipla began last June to sell a triple-drug pill for one dollar per day (AP/Chicago Sun-Times, 3/29). "We think we've done quite a lot," Robert LeFebvre, senior director of Project Access, Bristol-Myers Squibb's AIDS initiative, said, adding, "At prices below cost, we've seen an increase in demand. Would zero cost make a difference? I don't know."
Further Reductions Needed
Further reducing the cost of drugs would help, according to AIDS activists, who had hoped the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria would offer "ample money" to help subsidize the cost of AIDS drugs. Although some of the drugs' prices are only one-sixteenth the cost of the same drugs in the United States, they are still too expensive for many Africans, who on average have incomes of less than one dollar per day (Agovino, AP/Akron Beacon Journal, 3/29). The global fund has raised only $1.9 billion in pledges despite the $10 billion goal set by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and the $800 million collected so far will be disbursed next month. MSF spokesperson Rachel Cohen is concerned that the fund may "discriminate against proposals to use generic drugs" or may choose prevention projects over treatment projects. "Affordability of drugs is still a critical issue," UNAIDS policy adviser Julian Fleet said, adding, "In the extremely poor countries, there is no money to maintain any kind of health structure" (Associated Press, 3/29).