Uganda, Botswana Only African Countries Participating in Boehringer Ingelheim Free Antiretroviral Drug Program
July 15, 2003
Only two African countries have accepted German drug company Boehringer Ingelheim's three-year-old offer to provide free-of-charge its antiretroviral drug nevirapine to developing countries, an indication that "an effective response to the AIDS epidemic also requires strong political will from African countries," the Financial Times reports. According to Boehringer Ingelheim officials, Uganda and Botswana are the only countries in Africa to have received free shipments of nevirapine, which HIV-positive pregnant women can take to prevent vertical HIV transmission. Many doctors say that the drug is the most cost-effective way to reduce the risk of mother-to-child HIV transmission because HIV-positive pregnant women must take only a single dose of the drug during labor, according to the Times. Rolf Krebs, chair of Boehringer Ingelheim, said, "We are not at all satisfied with how [the nevirapine program] is running. It is very frustrating." Officials for Boehringer Ingelheim said that 44 countries were involved in the nevirapine program through a number of nongovernmental organizations and four South African provinces had applied for free nevirapine. Krebs said that substantial customs charges, poor logistics and a lack of necessary health care infrastructure were some of the reasons why many African nations are not participating in the program. However, Daniel Berman of Medecins Sans Frontieres said that the "high level of administrative burdens" of the program caused some African countries to "prefer to just buy the drugs," according to the Times. Berman added, "My advice would be to sell the drug at a cheap price (through normal business channels) and then you will see the orders skyrocket." Krebs said that Boehringer Ingelheim was in the process of simplifying the application process (Dyer, Financial Times, 7/14).
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