Sub-Saharan countries to boost AIDS treatment

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- Some 40 sub-Saharan countries are among 58 countries worldwide that have expressed interest in gaining access to lower-price drugs - including treatments for opportunistic infections and antiretroviral therapy, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS, or UNAIDS, said Monday.
The countries are mentioned in a news release issued at a special session of the UN General Assembly on AIDS which opened Monday in New York.
Efforts to improve and speed up access to care for people living with HIV/AIDS are gaining new momentum in the context of the public-private partnership started in May 2000 by five UN agencies and five private sector companies.
Five research-based pharmaceutical companies (Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol Myers Squibb, Glaxo Wellcome, Hoffman La Roche and Merck) and the World Health Organisation, World Bank, UNICEF, UNFPA and the UNAIDS have been exploring ways of speeding up access to HIV/AIDS-related care and treatment in developing countries.
The release said 23 countries have indicated interest in the past month alone.
Eleven of the participating countries (10 of them in Africa, one in Latin America) already have reached agreements with manufacturers on significantly reduced drug prices.
The process is gaining new momentum as regional groups of countries recognize the potential of driving drug prices lower through regional procurement.
This regional approach potentially also offers people moving between countries access to fairly standard levels of care.
Countries in southern, eastern and west Africa are actively pursuing this option.
"A regional approach holds strong potential to expand the benefits of improved access to care, for example through the possibility of bulk purchasing, shared technical assistance and joint resourcing," said Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS.
Competition from generic manufacturers and a proactive attitude on the part of the research and development-based industry have helped reduce drug prices.
Uganda's approach to lowering prices, for example, has involved direct competition between generics and research and development-based manufacturers, says UNAIDS.
Governments are devoting more public funds toward prevention and care.
Some - like Cote d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Gabon, Mali, Morocco and Senegal - are allocating special funding to subsidize access to antiretrovirals for people who are unable to afford the drugs.
Other countries, including Burundi and Rwanda, contribute to a special fund for purchasing drugs at subsidized prices.
Countries are also directing debt relief funds toward HIV/AIDS prevention and care programmes.
Cameroon and Mali, for example, have converted part of their debt into a fund for care and subsidizing access to drugs.
Some governments have invited private companies to subsidize access to drugs for their employees and their families.
In Brazil and South Africa, regulation of existing insurance schemes has provided access to HIV/AIDS care for thousands of people who would otherwise have been unable to afford it.
"We have seen a sea change in the way many governments approach the HIV/AIDS epidemic," said WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland.
"The possibility of treatment has given new hope, making countries scale up their efforts to fight the disease, through prevention and better diagnostics as well as beginning to provide care for those already infected," she added Despite these advances, there remains a pressing need for even stronger progress on a range of other fronts, says UNAIDS.
"Access to care and treatment will remain uneven until countries are able to afford AIDS-related drugs and diagnostic equipment, strengthen their health systems with the necessary infrastructure and trained staff, and provide adequate voluntary counselling and testing services, and psychosocial support," it adds.
While significant price discounts for antiretroviral therapy have been achieved, the majority of people affected by HIV/AIDS remain without access to even basic drugs and medicines.
Ensuring that essential care - palliative care, prophylaxis and treatment for opportunistic infections - is rolled out rapidly is as critical a challenge as making antiretrovirals more widely available.
At least 90 percent of the world's 36.
1 million people living with HIV/AIDS live in developing countries - 25.
3 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

25 juin 2001 17:08:00




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