Health, Human Rights Advocacy Groups Say U.S. Pushing Brand-Name Drugs for Global AIDS Initiative
AIDS and human rights advocacy groups on Thursday said that the U.S. government through the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is "supporting the for-profit pharmaceutical giants" that produce brand-name antiretroviral drugs instead of working with the World Health Organization and other groups to distribute less expensive and "easier-to-take" generic combination drugs, Reuters reports (Fox, Reuters, 3/25). PEPFAR, which was submitted to Congress last month, details the Bush administration's five-year, $15 billion global AIDS initiative, which seeks to prevent seven million new HIV infections, provide care for 10 million people living with the disease and provide treatment to two million HIV-positive people living in 14 African and Caribbean countries. The plan states that procurement of drugs for the initiative "will have to fit within the parameters of existing federal and international law for the protection of intellectual property rights." Ambassador Randall Tobias, head of the new State Department Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator, has said that the administration is open to the use of generics but has concerns over the safety of the generic drugs. The combination treatments in question are Cipla's Triomune and Ranbaxy Laboratories' Triviro, which have not been approved by FDA but are supported by WHO. The patent holders on each of the drugs included in the combination pills are GlaxoSmithKline, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Boehringer Ingelheim (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/25).
Joanne Csete, director of Human Rights Watch's HIV/AIDS program, said, "WHO has made enormous headway in verifying the quality of generic AIDS drugs that are the only hope for millions of low-income people with AIDS. But to protect brand-name pharmaceutical interests, the United States may dash that hope." Csete added that the United States "stands alone in opposing these safe, inexpensive and WHO-certified generic medicines. The Bush administration should dispel all accusations that it is protecting the interests of brand-name drug companies, and instead it should endorse and purchase these cheaper drugs, which would maximize the return on its investment in fighting AIDS" (HRW release, 3/24). Health GAP Director of International Policy Sharonann Lynch said that Tobias' statements about the safety of the generic combination treatments amount to "industry protection and politics masquerading as science" (Reuters, 3/25). Representatives of FDA, WHO, UNAIDS and other groups at a meeting in Botswana next week on international standards for evaluating generic combination drugs plan to discuss principles that can be used to examine alternatives in the market (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/25).