U.N., Other Groups Agree to Expand Access to Generic Aids Drugs

Stephen Lewis, U.N. special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, said in a statement explaining the plan, ”Simply put, the Clinton Foundation will negotiate the drug prices, UNICEF will employ its procurement capacity and the [U.N.-administered Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria] and World Bank will provide the funding.”

In developing countries other than Brazil, which provides free treatment to all HIV/AIDS sufferers, fewer than 200,000 people receive basic antiretroviral treatments, even though the World Health Organization estimates almost 6 million people need it.

Under the Clinton Foundation agreement, five generic drug manufacturers provide basic HIV treatment for as little as $140 per person per year, making the drugs available for one third to one half of the lowest price otherwise offered.

Companies working with the Clinton Foundation also supply poor countries with diagnostic tests, including machines, training, chemicals and maintenance at a price that is up to 80 percent cheaper that the normal market rate. These supplies would also be available to other poor countries under the new plan.

The pharmaceutical manufacturers included in the Clinton Foundation’s drug agreements are Aspen Pharmacare Holdings in South Africa, and Cipla, Hetero Drugs Limited, Ranbaxy Laboratories and Matrix Laboratories in India.

According to The New York Times, agreements with five companies to expand their sales of the cheap drugs had not been worked out when Tuesday’s announcement was made. However, in interviews with the Times, some of the companies expressed interest in possibly participating in the expanded program.

Anil Soni, chief adviser to the Global Fund’s executive director, told the Times that the fund was motivated to make the announcement before lining up agreement from suppliers so that it could show it backed the generic drugs the World Health Organization has approved.

President Bush’s AIDS advisers have questioned the safety of AIDS generics and the United States has not yet used its aid dollars to buy them.

The WHO and Doctors Without Borders are distributing less expensive generic antiretroviral drugs made by two Indian companies that combine the cocktails into single pills.

The United States organized a meeting in Botswana last week to discuss whether U.S. AIDS programs should distribute those drugs.

John Lange, deputy to U.S. global AIDS coordinator Randall Tobias, said the meeting reached no conclusions and said it may be difficult to assess whether the less expensive combinations controlled the AIDS virus without eventually allowing patients to develop a resistance to the drugs.

“What we are looking to do is not to avoid buying generics but to assure the quality, safety and efficacy of them,” Lange told the audience at a meeting last week that was organized by the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS and the Council on Foreign Relations.

AIDS has killed more than 25 million people since it was first identified in the early 1980s and the HIV virus infects more than 40 million worldwide. There is no cure for AIDS but antiretroviral drugs can hold the infection at bay and allow patients to lead near-normal lives.

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