World Health Organization To Create New Model To Purchase, Oversee Distribution of Antiretroviral Drugs
The World Health Organization announced yesterday that it plans to create a new model to purchase and oversee the distribution of antiretroviral drugs for developing countries, the Boston Globe reports. WHO Director-General Dr. Jong-Wook Lee has set a goal of providing three million HIV-positive people with antiretroviral medicines by the end of 2005; currently, about 300,0000 HIV-positive people in developing countries receive the therapy. The new model will be based on the Global TB Drug Facility, a program created by a collaboration of tuberculosis specialists -- including Lee -- that purchases drugs in bulk and oversees their distribution. The program, which has reached nearly two million TB patients over the past two years, has created a larger and more competitive market for TB drugs, driving down the cost of the drugs. The cost of commonly used TB drugs has dropped 30% and the cost of second-line drugs has dropped 95%, according to the Globe. For less than $20 million, the program has delivered TB drugs to 33 countries and spurred a decrease in the price of primary TB drugs to as little as $11 for a six-month daily supply. The TB drug program has also enabled WHO to work directly with local stakeholders to ensure the proper distribution of the drugs, providing insurance against their improper use, which can lead to drug-resistant TB strains.
"The main issue is getting drugs to patients, and we've got to make it more rapidly available," Ian Smith, one of Lee's top advisers, said. WHO said that it will develop a plan for the new model, which will also cover anti-malarial medications, by Dec. 1. WHO said that it hopes to begin the plan in three to four months, according to the Globe. Other HIV/AIDS and family planning specialists are also examining the model and may adopt it, WHO officials said. "The primary goal in this is to dramatically increase access," Smith said, adding, "We also want to reduce the price, but that is a byproduct of the program and not the primary aim." The price of antiretroviral drugs dropped dramatically last year to about $1 per day for HIV-positive people in developing countries; however, AIDS advocates hope the price falls even further, and some believe that the TB drug model may help achieve that goal. Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance, said, "If you can bring on other producers, and create competition among generics, you'll have Thai producers, Brazilian producers, Chinese generic producers, all competing with the Indian producers, and as you create more and more demand for the drugs, we believe it will continue to drive the price down." However, Zeitz added that developing countries should also look at other options for combining regional resources until a WHO program shows success (Donnelly, Boston Globe, 7/30).