Anti-retrovirals to curb the enemy's progress

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- Anti-retrovirals, the drugs that make it possible to curb the progress of AIDS, today constitute one of the few weapons Africa has to slow down the advance of a very powerful enemy.
That is why there are wide predictions that the OAU summit which is underway in Lusaka will stress the need for big pharmarceutical companies not to rescind the current trend in antiretroviral price cuts.
The reasons are not just moral, they are economic as well.
Seventy per cent of the world's HIV/AIDS cases are found in Africa, which also accounts for 84 per cent of AIDS-related deaths (about 17 million).
Anti-retrovirals (a combination of drugs against the pandemic), which so far is accessed but by a tiny minority (10 per cent the afflicted), cannot in fact stop the progress of the AIDS.
Within two decades, the havoc brought about by AIDS in Africa is worse than the outcome of any of the numerous conflicts within the continent, with 25 million people infected.
"Let us not dither: a tragedy of unprecedented proportions is about to take place in Africa," warned former South African President Nelson Mandela, who noted that "today AIDS has caused more deaths in Africa than all the wars, famine and floods, and destructive diseases like malaria, taken together.
" Opening the 13th international AIDS conference in Durban in July last year, the charismatic South African figure observed that AIDS was "destroying families and villages, over-stretching and overburdening health services, depriving schools of both their pupils and teachers.
" A strategy at making anti-retrovirals more affordable was launched in May 2000 when five laboratories in collaboration with five world organisations - UNAIDS, the World Bank, WTO, UNICEF and UNFPA - took concrete measures towards price reductions via the Accelerating Access Initiative (ACCESS) programme.
The initiative provided African States with 80-90 per cent reductions in the prices of anti-retrovirals.
In that regard the Bristol-Myers-Squibb firm undertook to sell its two anti-retrovirals, didanosine-Videx and Stavudine- Zerit, at 1 dollar per day for bi-therapy, making a 95 per cent reduction compared to the price paid in developed countries.
Bristol-Myers Squibb had already acquiesced to a 40 per cent reduction in the prices of anti-retrovirals in Africa in 1994.
The price reduction proportion reached 80 per cent as soon as the ACCESS programme was initiated in May 2000.
Six countries (Senegal, Rwanda, Uganda, Cote d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Mali) undertook to make their HIV-positive nationals benefit from these advantages.
Bristol-Myers-Squibb was also said to be contemplating extending the measure to other African countries.
Another major international laboratory, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a year ago concluded an agreement with Senegal, Rwanda, Uganda, Cote d'Ivoire, Cameroon and Mali within the framework of the ACCESS programme, for a 90 per cent reduction in the prices of AZT (Retrovir), 3TC (Epivir) and Combivir.
The price reduction offer by the ACCESS programme has been extended, since February 2001, to NGOs that provide care for patients in these countries.
The offer is also valid for firms offering anti-AIDS treatment to staff within internal health structures, like the mining sector in Botswana.
In 1997, GSK announced a reduction in the price of AZT as part of an initiative referred to as "Reduction of the risk of mother-child transmission of HIV infection.
" Other pharmaceutical firms such as Merck

06 july 2001 16:53:00

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