July 26, 2012
WASHINGTON (Deutsche Presse-Agentur) -- On day four of the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington, the medical aid organisation Doctors Without Borders charged that the high cost of anti-HIV drugs, driven by drug company business practices, is still hindering the global fight against AIDS.
"There's a conflict between medical and commercial needs," said Michelle Childs, MSF medical policy director.
The commercial interests of drug companies drive high prices, the aid group said. Rather than reduce prices across the board, manufacturers strike deals on a country-by-country basis.
"Pharma firms are doing it now because they can, because they have the patents now," Childs added.
Medical director Nathan Ford said that although the price of older drugs has plunged in recent years, many newer and more effective drugs remain unaffordable.
In some sub-Saharan African countries, newer medicines can cost more than 2,400 dollars per person per year -- up to 15 times as much as older drugs, according to the organisation's latest yearly survey of the price of HIV medicine.
Many people worldwide have switched to newer drugs as viral resistance to older drugs has increased and newer, easier-to-tolerate treatments have been developed, he said. Drug resistance ranges from about 7 per cent in poor and middle income countries up to 17 per cent in some wealthier countries where medicines have been in use for decades, according to a report from the World Health Organisation.
Nonetheless, emerging economies like Brazil and India are producing many of the drugs for use at home and for export at much cheaper cost than in developed countries. In poor countries, which receive international support in their treatment programmes, some anti-HIV medicines cost as little as 100 to 200 dollars a year.
In a report released Wednesday, the UN-backed Global Commission on HIV and the Law called for worldwide legalisation of prostitution and intravenous drugs to fight the spread of AIDS. Activist groups say drug abusers and people working in prostitution face discrimination and exclusion from the worldwide fight against the epidemic.
Outside of sub-Saharan Africa, one out of three HIV infections is associated with the use of infected needles for drugs, according to the nongovernmental Harm Reduction International. Despite this, programs to provide drug users with clean needles have faced cuts, said Rick Lines, the group's director.
"In the last two years many countries with high rates of HIV infection among drug users have actually reduced their assistance," he said in Washington.
Money is as short as ever, aid groups say. Germany donates just 85 dollars for every million of GDP to the global fight against AIDS, a third of the contributions of the country's European neighbors Great Britain and the Netherlands.
"There's no reason for Germany to lag behind comparable industrialised nations in their engagement in the fight against AIDS worldwide," said Joachim Rueppel, spokesman for the German AIDS action group Aktionbuendnis Gegen AIDS.
Copyright 2012 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH