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US Drug Company Calls on Caribbean Nations to Expand Access to HIV-Fighting Drugs

September 5, 2001

New Jersey-based Merck & Co. said Tuesday that the Caribbean was not doing enough to provide discounted HIV drugs to patients. For years, developing nations complained that prices for HIV drugs put them out of the reach of patients. Then in March, Merck announced it would sell Stocrin and Crixivan, which suppress the replication of HIV, at no profit in the world's poorest and hardest-hit nations -- including eight Caribbean countries. "The excuse in the past always has been we can't afford these drugs," said Sean Hughes, head of Merck's HIV/AIDS drug initiative in the Caribbean. "In the Caribbean in general, things move slower. The response is there, but I don't think it's been fast enough."

Patients in Haiti, Trinidad, the Dominican Republic, Guyana and Suriname would pay around $1,100 for an annual dosage of both drugs -- about 85 percent less than their cost in the United States. In St. Lucia, Jamaica and St. Kitts, patients would pay a little less than $2,000 for a dosage of both. With an estimated 2 percent infection rate among a population of some 25 million, the Caribbean, excluding Cuba, has the world's second-highest infection rates after Africa. But Caribbean authorities said many still could not afford the drugs and that cash-strapped governments also could not easily bankroll treatment programs, even with Merck's discounts.

Part of the problem is that Africa's staggering AIDS problem has overshadowed the Caribbean's. Loans and discounted drugs have poured into the continent, while the Caribbean's AIDS crisis has only recently received attention from international donor organizations. Haiti is the hardest-hit nation in the region. About 330,000 people there have died of AIDS, and official figures estimate HIV rates to be as high as 6 percent.

Back to other CDC news for September 5, 2001

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Associated Press
09.04.01; Marcelo Ballve

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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