Roche Drops the Price
After a sustained campaign, particularly by Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders, pharmaceutical giant Roche has lowered the price for nelfinavir (Viracept) for least developed countries and Sub-Saharan Africa to $900 per patient year, a more than 80 percent reduction off of the cost of the drug in the United States and Europe. For middle income countries, Roche isn't offering much of a bargain and is setting a cost of $3,000 per patient year. Roche is also tacking on "shipping and handling costs" to this offer, which could amount to a 20 percent surcharge for these developing countries. One wonders why Roche was the last to the table in offering differential pricing for their product, when most other big manufacturers have already agreed on substantial discounts on their products for poor countries.
TAC on the March
The Treatment Action Campaign of South Africa marched on Parliament on Valentine's Day, February 14, to demand a national HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention program from their government. TAC's struggles with the government of South African President Thabo Mbeki represent the struggles and aspirations of people living with HIV/AIDS all over the developing world: for access to antiretroviral therapy and other AIDS care that have kept thousands of people in the United States and Europe alive and healthy, and truly living with HIV. GMHC in collaboration with Health GAP and the African Services Committee, sponsored a demonstration in support of the Treatment Action Campaign outside the South African Consulate in New York on the eve of TAC's march.
Getting Religion: The Church and ART
Church World Service sponsored a roundtable on the Universal Access to AIDS Treatment, February 19th and 20th in New York City, bringing representatives of major protestant denominations and their associated international health programs together with AIDS treatment activists for the first time. The roundtable explored the potential role for faith-based organizations in providing care for people with AIDS in the developing world, where religious hospitals and health centers provide a substantial portion of health care services in general, and advocating for public policies in the U.S. and abroad to improve access to treatment.
Presidential AIDS Initiative
President Bush unveiled a startling new AIDS initiative in his State of the Union speech in January, which includes $15 billion to provide treatment and prevention services to 2 million people in Africa and the Caribbean. The initiative, which includes a request for $10 billion new dollars from Congress, represents a sea-change in U.S. global AIDS policy. The devil is in the details of course and the President's new plan relies heavily on a yet-to-be created U.S. program through the State Department to manage this effort, instead of funneling the needed resources to the already-up-and-running Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM). The initiative is also slow to get started, with the President asking only for $2 billion in the coming fiscal year. While praising the effort as more ambitious and sweeping than anything proposed by his predecessors, GMHC expressed disappointment that the President bypasses the GFATM and doesn't offer more assistance in the near term for people living with AIDS in the developing world.
Speaking of the Global Fund
In a piece of masochism or shrewd political maneuvering, the Board of the GFATM elected U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson as its Chairperson. With the U. S. shortchanging the Fund in favor of its own unilateral initiatives and its championing of moralistic approaches to HIV prevention, the appointment of Thompson is a mixed blessing. Perhaps giving the U.S. a leadership role on the Board may curry some favor with the Administration and lead to increased funding down the line, but the price may be increased pressure from the U.S. delegation on abstinence-only prevention approaches, restriction of family planning options, and stigmatization of drug users and sex workers. While the Fund also gave out $866 million in new grants at its last Board meeting, they also announced that they don't have the cash to offer a new round of grants later this year.