AIDS Drugmakers Say They're Boosting African Supply
January 15, 2003
Pharmaceutical companies said on Tuesday they are increasing the supply of AIDS medicines to Africa, but they acknowledged that current efforts only scratch the surface of the problem. Industry figures show more than 35,000 Africans were receiving cut-price HIV/AIDS drugs at the end of March 2002 -- a four-fold increase over the previous 18 months but still only .01 percent of those infected on the continent. Since then, the six companies behind the accelerating access initiative believe the numbers have increased significantly, though full figures for 2002 will not be available for some months.Adapted from:
Jeffrey Sturchio, vice president of external affairs at Merck, said the company had seen the number of people taking antiretroviral drugs in Botswana increase from 500 last July to 3,500 by November, while in South Africa 10,000 people are now using Merck's drugs.
Drug makers launched their preferential pricing scheme in May 2000 following intense pressure for price cuts in Africa. A total of 19 countries have deals with firms for discounts of 85 percent to 90 percent.
"There are 6 million people in urgent need of receiving antiretroviral therapy in the world and the vast majority are not getting it," said Raffaella Ravinetto, pharmaceutical coordinator at Medicins Sans Frontieres. "The fact that so few are receiving treatment is a demonstration that this procedure is not effective enough."
MSF argues that drug prices are still too high, with a year's AZT supply from GlaxoSmithKline costing $438 in Africa, while Indian generic firms ask as little as $180. The industry counters that price is only a part of the story, and many branded medicines are now just as cheap as generics.
Sturchio said the World Health Organization's goal of getting antiretroviral treatment to 3 million people in the developing world by 2005 would only be achieved if the international community backed up drug price cuts with money to pay for distribution and health care on the ground. The companies sponsoring the initiative are Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Roche, Abbott and Boehringer-Ingelheim.
01.14.03; Ben Hirschler