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International News

Calls for Access to HIV Generic Drugs Mark Start of AIDS Conference

July 15, 2003

Calls for poor countries to make their own cheap HIV drug copies -- a policy stridently opposed by the pharmaceutical giants -- launched the International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis and Treatment Sunday in Paris. Opening the four-day conference, speakers declared that generic drugs are a lifeline to countries that otherwise face catastrophe due to the global AIDS pandemic.

The vast majority of the world's HIV-infected live in countries where the average income is less than $2 a day. In rich countries, patients with access to AIDS drugs have been able to make living with HIV more manageable.

Brazil has 600,000 people with HIV, said former Brazilian President Henrique Cardoso. Yet the number of AIDS deaths in Brazil is less than half of the tally predicted a few years ago by international agencies. A government decision to produce eight low-cost generic versions of non-patented antiviral drugs is one reason for this success, Cardoso said.

That competition prompted the pharmaceutical industry to slash its prices and helped cut the rate of mortality and hospitalizations. The policy's $500 million annual cost was "more than compensated" by the reduction in hospital expenses and economic benefits by having people staying in the workforce rather than falling sick, Cardoso said.

"Emerging countries, particularly in Africa, have the right to produce drugs to fight not only AIDS but also tuberculosis and malaria," Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe said to enthusiastic applause. "If the WTO [World Trade Organization] does not accept this vital decision, it will have meant that cynicism has won," said Delanoe.

The pharmaceutical industry, reacting to public dismay and competition from generics, has cut the cost of several HIV drugs for poor, badly hit countries. But the industry argues that generics can wreck the profit incentive essential for encouraging research.

Back to other news for July 15, 2003

Adapted from:
Agence France Presse
07.13.03; Richard Ingham

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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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