Latin American AIDS Experts Propose Regional Fund To Purchase Antiretroviral Drugs; WHO Hopes To Double Number Receiving Treatment
Latin American AIDS experts meeting in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, yesterday proposed the creation of a regional fund to negotiate lower prices on antiretroviral drugs and purchase the drugs for distribution in the region, EFE News Service reports (EFE News Service, 3/13). The announcement came on the last day of a two-day forum where about 50 health professionals and workers from Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as representatives from the World Health Organization, UNAIDS and other nongovernmental organizations, discussed treatment access. The forum was part of a WHO-sponsored series of international meetings to work on a "concrete agenda" for expanding access to antiretroviral drugs in developing countries. WHO at the XIV International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, Spain, last year set a goal to provide at least three million HIV/AIDS patients worldwide with treatment by 2005 (EFE News Service, 3/12). The Pan American Health Organization would operate the proposed "rotating-drug fund," and the new agency would control the purchase of supplies and drugs from large multinational pharmaceutical companies in order to strengthen the region's negotiating power, EFE News reports. The plan includes the creation of 100 pilot programs in Latin America and Africa to help train health care workers, boost the infrastructure necessary to provide the drugs and enable people with HIV/AIDS to organize. Paulo Teixeira, coordinator of Brazil's anti-AIDS program, said that the project would cost up to $10 million, approximately 1% of WHO's $1 billion budget (EFE News Service, 3/13).
Bernard Schwartlander, head of the WHO Department of HIV/AIDS, on Wednesday at the meeting said that WHO hopes to double the number of HIV-positive people who are receiving antiretroviral drug treatment in Latin America by 2005. Currently, about 200,000 of the estimated one million HIV-positive people in Latin America are taking antiretroviral drug combinations; WHO would like to double this number to 400,000 by 2005. However, Schwartlander was "vague" about from where the "largely poor" continent would receive funding to provide antiretroviral drugs to more people. "The WHO characteristically works to offer technical and political support to countries. We don't provide funding," he said, adding, "The increase (in coverage) depends fundamentally on the governments of the countries and funding from institutions like the World Bank" and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Teixeira said that WHO had failed to "use its muscle" in advocating for reduced-cost antiretroviral drugs, the Associated Press reports. "Unity among different countries has shown itself to be fundamental in reducing the prices of medications. However, these results would be very much better if there was clear leadership from the WHO and other international bodies," Teixeira said. Brazil, which manufactures its own generic antiretroviral drugs, provides the drugs free to HIV-positive people, and about 125,000 Brazilians receive combination drug therapy through the government program. In four years of providing the drugs, the annual number of AIDS-related deaths has dropped from 11,024 to 4,136 (Astor, Associated Press, 3/12).