Antiretroviral Drug Access Likely to be ‘Major Point’ at International AIDS Conference Despite Recent Price Reductions
Despite significant reductions in the cost of antiretroviral drugs in the past year, increasing access to the medicines for HIV-positive people in developing countries is likely to be a "major point of debate" at the 14th International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, Spain, in July, the Wall Street Journal reports. Although major drug makers such as Merck & Co. and GlaxoSmithKline have "slashed" prices by 90% or more in many developing countries -- GSK's two-drug combination pill Combivir now retails for about $2 a day, down from $13 a day -- African governments are "hard-pressed" to pay for the drugs, which are still out of reach for even well-off residents. "[T]he only thing stopping us from saving lives is the medicine's cost," Dr. Peter Mugyenyi, a Ugandan infectious disease specialist, said, adding that solving the cost problem "is the most urgent issue facing us right now." Mugyenyi imports generic versions of the antiretroviral drugs illegally from Indian drug maker Cipla to treat about 4,000 patients, who "don't know they are breaking the law."
At the conference in Barcelona, the Accelerating Access Initiative -- a coalition of drug makers and the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the World Bank -- is expected to announce that 36,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa are taking antiretroviral drugs as a result of last year's price cuts. Some observers said that the number "will be seen as low" when compared to the fact that 28 million people in the region are HIV-positive. But GSK CEO Jean-Pierre Garnier said that the number "is a dramatic increase," given that the figure is about four times as high as the number of people who were being treated two years ago. "[T]he African governments have to show more leadership on this issue, and the rich nations must increase their donations" to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Garnier said, adding that the pharmaceutical companies are "doing our part." According to the Journal, "a debate will rage at the meeting over how to increase the Global Fund" and the United States "will likely face a great deal of pressure ... to increase its donation." The Bush administration recently gave $250 million to the Global Fund, but many activists want to see the donation increased to as much as $1 billion or more a year. "If we're going to defeat this disease, the prices must come down or they must be subsidized" by African nations or the international community, Mugyenyi said (Waldholz, Wall Street Journal, 6/13).
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