Companies Reduce Prices for HIV Drugs in Developing Countries

Article excerpt

In an unprecedented effort to combat acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in sub-Saharan Africa, five of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies have agreed to decrease the price of drugs used to treat those infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Some of the companies have pledged to sell the pharmaceuticals at prices just above manufacturing costs, at discounts as great as 90%. Glaxo Wellcome said it would offer its drug Combivir -- a mixture of lamivudine and zidovudine -- for US$ 3 a day in many of the world's developing countries. The drug currently costs about US$ 11 a day in Canada and US$ 25 in the United States.

"The HIV epidemic in developing countries threatens to wipe out development and economic gains made in the second half of the last century," Richard Sykes, Chairman of Glaxo Wellcome, said in a prepared statement. "The private sector has a role to play in contributing to a multisector response to this epidemic," he said.

"It's really a very exciting announcement," said Dr Mark Wainberg, a physician and President of the International AIDS Society. "It's something that a lot of pharmaceutical companies have been under pressure to do for a long time." However, Wainberg said, even at these prices, the drugs will be beyond the financial grasp of many in Africa, whose average per-capita income is less than US$ 80 a month. Some experts also fear Africa does not have enough trained medical personnel to administer the drugs. "If the drugs are not taken properly, then resistance almost certainly will be an aftermath," Wainberg said.

In addition to Glaxo Wellcome, the participating companies include Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Hoffman-La Roche and Merck & Co. Other companies are preparing to join the group.

Experts say that new efforts to improve prevention, medical infrastructure, international funding and political will are also needed. …