The Thailand government has supplied free technology for the manufacture of Aids generic drugs to five African countries to cut drug prices for HIV up to tenfold.
It has pledged not to rest until every African country has generic drugs for HIV. Twenty-eight million of the world's 40 million HIV-infected people live in Africa.
A revolution in drug accessibility
The Thai effort, which is at present directed toward some of Africa's most populous countries, is likely to produce a revolution in drug accessibility and pricing in Africa. Although the prices of patented HIV drugs have dropped significantly over the last year, UNAIDS has warned that they still remain unaffordable for most Africans.
Zimbabwe will be the first country to begin manufacturing the generic equivalent of Fluconazole, a broad spectrum anti-fungal for use against thrush, to be followed in January 2002 by Ghana. By February, the first production line of generic drugs will come offline from Cameroon manufacturers, followed by Uganda and then Nigeria. The generic equivalent of Fluconazole sells at US 13 cents per tablet - almost 10 times cheaper than the pharmaceutical price.
Generic medicines much cheaper
Generic equivalents are manufactured for antiretrovirals including Combovir (US66 cents per tablet), AZT (US 15 cents per 100mg capsule or US$1,33 per 60ml syrup), 3TC (US 22 cents per capsule), Nevirapine (US 55 cents per capsule), Stavudine capsules (US 6 cents per capsule). Rifampicin, an essential medicine for treatment of tuberculosis, costs US 12cents per generic capsule. The generic equivalent of Ketonazole, used for treating fungal infections of the lungs and oesophagus, costs US 5 cents per tablet.
Thailand, which has 1.5 million HIV-infected people among a population of 62 million, has seen new infections of HIV drop with effective prevention and treatment programs. Thailand began manufacturing drugs to treat HIV when it was realised that the average costs of antiretroviral triple drug therapy was US $675 per month, while minimum salaries in Thailand hover at less than US $120 a month.
No Thai drugs for NGO's
Dr Kraisintu said although South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign had approached the Thai government to supply generic drugs to South Africa, "but as a government we cannot supply NGOs. South Africa has two problems, one is that many antiretrovirals, such as AZT, are patented in SA - but not all drugs are patented there, and there are ways of getting around some agreements.
(Based on a report from the 5th International Conference on Home and Community Care for Persons Living with HIV/AIDS, Chiang Mai, Thailand, December 2001.)