Drug Companies in Accelerating Access Initiative Say They Will Increase Antiretroviral Drug Supply to African Nations
Six companies involved with the UNAIDS- and WHO-sponsored Accelerating Access program yesterday said they would increase the antiretroviral drug supply to Africa, "acknowledg[ing] that current efforts only scratched the surface" of the continent's epidemic, Reuters reports. At the end of March 2002, more than 35,500 Africans were receiving low-cost antiretroviral medications, a number that represents a four-fold increase over the previous 18 months but is still only 0.01% of the HIV-positive individuals on the continent, according to industry figures. The six companies, including Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Roche, Abbott and Boehringer-Ingelheim, said that they believe that the number of people with access to antiretroviral drugs has "increased significantly" since March 2002, although figures for 2002 will not be available for "some months," according to Reuters. Since the program began in May 2000, 19 countries have negotiated with the firms to receive HIV/AIDS-related drugs at discounts of 85% to 90%.
'Too Little, Too Late'
Some critics say that the effort by the group is "too little, too late," Reuters reports. Rafaella Ravinetto, pharmaceutical coordinator at Medicins Sans Frontieres in Geneva, Switzerland, said, "There are six million people in urgent need of receiving antiretroviral therapy in the world and the vast majority are not getting it. The fact that so few are receiving treatment is a demonstration that this procedure is not effective enough." MSF maintains that antiretroviral drug prices are "still too high," according to Reuters. But industry officials say that prices are only one "part of the story," noting that many brand-name drugs have become as inexpensive as generics. Jeffrey Sturchio, vice president of external affairs at Merck, said that WHO's goal to get antiretrovirals to three million people in developing countries by 2005 can only be achieved if the "international community backed up drug price cuts with money to pay for distribution and health care on the ground," Reuters reports. He said, "It's obvious more resources need to be made available," adding, "I understand the frustration that there hasn't been more progress ... but it's like trying to change a tire on a car that's going at 100 kilometers an hour" (Hirschler, Reuters, 1/14).