UGANDA: Gov't commits to buying generic antiretrovirals
KAMPALA, 27 October (PLUSNEWS) - The Ugandan health ministry made its first ever clear commitment on Sunday to buying cheap generic copies of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs.
"We have a law in place that allows us to import generic drugs in a crisis, and we will certainly be doing this," Health Minister Jim Muhwezi told PlusNews at the 11th conference of the Global Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS, held in the capital, Kampala.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria had already given Uganda about US $52 million specifically for "comprehensive treatment of HIV/AIDS", and was expected to give it another $36 million, he said.
The revelation came after UNAIDS announced at the conference that high-quality generic drugs approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) were about to become cheaper than ever. UNAIDS Chief Executive Officer Ben Plumley told delegates that the Clinton Foundation had recently come to a deal with generic manufacturers to halve the prices it had previously paid for ARVs.
He said bids were now being made for between $120 and $140 for a year's treatment for one person. "The UN is saying this is really welcome, and we implore other drug companies to take similar steps," said Plumley.
He added that the UN had originally set a target of $200 for a year's treatment, which would put "irresistible pressure" on donors to a make a real commitment to supplying treatment. "We are delighted to discover they will now be cheaper than that target price," he said.
But recent progress needed to be taken in the context of a very slow start in sub-Saharan Africa, Plumley added. "We haven't done a very good job to date. Only 1 percent of Africans who need AIDS treatment are getting it at present."
So far, Uganda has been coy about shopping for generic ARVs. Observers say President Yoweri Museveni has been unwilling to upset either the big pharmaceutical companies or the US government, which ever since the Doha declaration of November 2001 has been lobbying hard to prevent countries like Brazil and India from exporting generic ARVs at prices that undercut more expensive, patented products.
"We still think the American companies are right in principle," Museveni said at the conference. "India and Brazil cannot have open-ended rights to produce drugs breaking intellectual property laws."
Nevertheless, Muhwezi said Uganda would now be buying its drugs from generic companies for emergency treatment of Uganda's 1 million people living with AIDS. "The only condition is that they must pass WHO approval standards," Muhwezi told IRIN. "We haven't yet negotiated [a price], but one South African company called Hetro quoted for less than half a dollar per person, per day," he added.