24 July 2007

Price hike for Aids drugs

Newer, less toxic anti-Aids drugs will cost a whopping 500 per cent more, according to a report launched at an international Aids conference by Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Newer, less toxic anti-Aids drugs will cost a whopping 500 per cent more, according to a report launched at an international Aids conference by the medical humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).

The substantial price increase, from 99 to 487 dollars, was for first-line combination antiretroviral treatment recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Some getting cheaper
According to the report entitled Untangling the Web of Price Reductions, there were, however, dramatic price reductions for second-line drugs over the past year - largely a result of a compulsory license issued by Thailand.

Second-line drugs are essential for those who develop resistance to earlier generation treatment. The cost of these drugs is becoming a major issue in the capacity of Aids-affected countries to deliver widespread and equitable treatment and care.

Thailand's compulsory license came into force in January to overcome a patent barrier on second-line drug Lopinavir/Ritonavir. This enabled the country to either legally import it or produce it locally. The costs plummeted from 2 800 to 695 dollars per year.

Still too much
"But this is still far too expensive for the majority of people in Thailand, where the average annual salary is 1 600 dollars per year," Kannikar Kijtiwatchakul, a MSF campaigner in Thailand, said.

Thailand is often upheld as a model of HIV treatment across the developing world, with its early campaigns for universal access to treatment, while simultaneously rolling out massive education and prevention programmes.

"It's encouraging to see the price of second-line regimens finally starting to come down," Karen Day, pharmacist with MSF's campaign for access to essential medicines, said.

"But we are worried that the lack of competition and dramatically higher prices for the newly-recommended WHO first line could mean that people in developing countries may not be able to benefit from improved treatment that has been widely available in wealthy countries for years," she added.

Profits before lives
The big pharmaceutical companies are placing profits before lives, and are working to prevent developing countries from reducing the price of high-cost medicines, a statement from Oxfam Australia said.

"Although the Australian government has said little recently about big pharma's impact on the people of developing countries, it has committed 600 million dollars over four years to treat and prevent HIV/Aids in our region," Oxfam executive director Andrew Hewett said.

"But if Australia fails to act to prevent the harmful actions of some pharmaceutical companies, taxpayer dollars will continue to be spent subsidising the high prices demanded for ARVs by multinational pharmaceuticals," according to Hewett.

In 2005, G8 leaders pledged to implement a package of HIV prevention, treatment and care with near universal access by 2010.

Compulsory licences work best
An MSF analysis of Brazil and Thailand's efforts at providing universal access to antiretrovirals shows that compulsory licenses have been far more effective in bringing prices down than negotiating price reductions with companies or relying on their differential pricing schemes.

There are significant delays between the availability of newer treatments in wealthy countries, when compared to that in the developing world.

"I work in Sydney and also have been treating patients with Aids in countries like Malawi and Mozambique, and the gaps I have witnessed are alarming," MSF HIV/AIDS advisor Alexandra Calmy said.

"At this conference in Sydney, we're seeing presentations on several promising drugs. These drugs should be available in Africa, Asia and Latin America at the same time as they are marketed in rich countries, not only after years of fighting for access to them. This means including the needs of people living in developing countries into the R&D plans from the beginning," Calmy added.

The 4th International Aids Society Conference on Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention, which opened Sunday, features the latest developments in biomedical prevention, treatment and clinical practise. – (Sapa-dpa)

Read more:
HIV/Aids Centre

July 2007


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Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl qualified at the University of Pretoria in 2005. She is a patients' rights activist and loves using social media to teach about HIV. She is in private practice in Johannesburg.

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