Rights groups protest possible US threat to AIDS drug access
Thursday 22 April 2004
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AFRICA: Rights groups protest possible US threat to AIDS drug access

©  MSF

Campaign for generic fixed-dose combination antiretrovirals

JOHANNESBURG, 26 March (PLUSNEWS) - International rights groups and AIDS activists have expressed concern that the US could obstruct access to generic HIV/AIDS drugs in developing countries.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on Thursday that the US was convening a conference in Botswana next week, where a challenge to the World Health Organisation's (WHO) approval of generic versions of patented anti-AIDS drugs could be mounted.

Joanne Csete, director of HRW's HIV/AIDS Programme, said although WHO had made enormous headway in verifying the quality of generic AIDS drugs for millions of low-income HIV-positive people, the US government could dash that hope to protect brand-name pharmaceutical interests.

"The United States stands alone in opposing these safe, inexpensive and WHO-certified generic medicines. The Bush administration should dispel all accusations that it is protecting the interests of brand-name drug companies, and instead it should endorse and purchase these cheaper drugs, which would maximise the return on its investment in fighting AIDS," Csete said.

The drugs in question meet the stringent standards of the WHO's technical review for generic drugs, but have not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

The conference on Fixed-Dose Combination (FDC) Drug Products, scheduled for 29 to 30 March in Botswana, was called by the US Department of Health and Human Sciences.

In an open letter to the conference organisers, the medical aid group, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), stated: "We question what this meeting will add to the processes that are already underway and whether it will in any way contribute to the urgent task of expanding access to affordable essential medicines for HIV/AIDS and other illnesses.

"Recent public statements by the US administration, the initiator of this conference, regarding generic medicines, seem to indicate a troubling lack of support for WHO pre-qualified generics, including FDCs," read the letter. FDCs - pills containing two or three AIDS drugs in one tablet – are key elements in efforts to scale up AIDS treatment in developing countries.

MSF and the US lobby group, Health GAP, maintain that the US government's insistence on purchasing only brand-name antiretrovirals (ARVs) will undermine WHO's hopes of ensuring that three million people are on ARVs by the end of 2005, as well as the existing efforts of other organisations to scale up ARV treatment in developing countries.

According to the HRW statement: "The generic drugs opposed by the United States allow people with HIV/AIDS to take only two pills a day, and they are much cheaper than the equivalent brand-name drugs. The cheapest generic regimen, also endorsed by [MSF] and other health practitioners, costs $140 per year per patient, as opposed to the brand-name equivalent of six pills a day costing at least $600 per year.

"Numerous UN bodies, including the Commission on Human Rights, have recognised that access to affordable medicines for HIV/AIDS is essential to the right to health."



Recent AFRICA Reports

ARV rollout set to begin in Eastern Cape,  22/Apr/04
Food security through the lens of HIV/AIDS,  16/Apr/04
IRIN PlusNews Weekly Issue 177, 16 April 2004,  16/Apr/04
Five NGOs to receive USAID grants for HIV/AIDS programmes,  14/Apr/04
HIV/AIDS threatens to undermine democracy,  9/Apr/04


The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria
Mothers and HIV/AIDS

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