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Clinton's cheap AIDS drugs deal

14th May 2007

A body set up by former US president Bill Clinton has struck a deal with third world countries and big pharma over cheap, generic drugs for AIDS patients.

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Clinton announced the news himself, saying that the agreements largely covered the more expensive, second-line treatments which are increasingly being used when older medicines fail.

The new prices will halve the cost of drugs for better-off developing countries and cut already lower prices in the poorest nations by a further 25%, Clinton said.

Deals were also made on the provision of all-in-one pills which combine older, first-line HIV/AIDS treatments in a user-friendly form, he added.

Clinton endorsed recent moves by the governments of Thailand and Brazil to break patents held by US pharmaceutical companies because they believed the prices the companies were charging to be too high.

‚ÄúNo company will live or die because of high price premiums for AIDS drugs in middle-income countries, but patients may,‚Ä? Clinton told reporters in the company of the Thai health minister.

An innovative part of the Clinton Foundation's new deals is its willingness to buy cheap generic AIDS drugs from Indian manufacturers Cilpa and Matrix at a much lower cost. This will give poorer nations more bargaining power in reducing the cost of brand-name drugs still protected by patent.

The second-line medicines will be bought with more than US$100 million raised by a group of countries led by France. The improved first-line therapies will largely be financed by the United Nations Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and other donors, the foundation said, with the World Bank and UNICEF also playing a role.

Second-line drugs can cost up to 10 times as much as first-line therapies. Costs have ballooned in Brazil and Thailand, which began programs to provide universal access to AIDS treatment years before African countries did, as patients have developed resistance to generic first-line treatments and have moved to brand-name second-line drugs.

The Bush administration's US$15 billion anti-AIDS plan tends, on the other hand, to encourage the purchase of drugs made by US-based big pharma. President Bush's anti-AIDS chief, former Eli Lilly chief executive Randall Tobias, recently told Congress that there were doubts over the quality of cheap generic AIDS drugs made in India and China, even though they have been approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and US health officials are re-examining the WHO approval process.

International humanitarian group Medécins sans Frontières has warned that fewer lives will be saved if only branded drugs are bought.

 

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