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Campaign Update: Access to HIV/AIDS Medicines
June 1, 2001
This article is part of the Summer 2001 issue of the MSF Alert newsletter.
THE AIDS DRUG PRICE WAR
From Thailand to South Africa, MSF field projects still struggle to overcome cost barriers associated with antiretroviral medicines and treatments for common HIV-related opportunistic infections. In early February 2001, the landscape of AIDS drug pricing changed dramatically when an Indian generic manufacturer, Cipla, offered a triple-combination of antiretrovirals for a "humanitarian price" of $350 to MSF, and a government price of $600. This offer sparked a price war among generic and research-based AIDS drug manufacturers, and significantly re-oriented the thinking of political leaders on the feasibility of treating AIDS in poor countries.
Cipla's offer, made without restrictions in time, geography or quantity, starkly contrasted with the earlier negotiation practices of the five major pharmaceutical companies involved in the UNAIDS Accelerating Access Initiative. Since the Cipla offer, major companies, both brand name and generic, have begun to cut their prices further through more transparent, less-restricted offers.
The "price war" also catalyzed movement at major multi-lateral agencies. Most recently, Kofi Annan, U.N. Secretary General, supported the use of generic antiretrovirals and called for the creation of an international "war chest" to fight AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis (TB) during the African Summit on HIV/AIDS, TB and other Related Infectious Diseases.
Finally, there have been growing calls for increased international funding for AIDS treatment, which MSF and other advocates hope will culminate at the U.N. General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS that will convene in New York in June 2001 and the meeting of the Group of Eight (G8) nations in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001 -and translate into immediate increased access to treatment for people with AIDS in developing countries.
DRUG COMPANIES IN SOUTH AFRICA CAPITULATE UNDER PUBLIC PRESSURE
In response to global denunciation of their lawsuit, on April 19, 39 drug companies unconditionally dropped the case they had pursued for three years against the South African government. MSF's international "Drop the Case" petition collected signatures of support from nearly 300,000 individuals and 140 organizations from over 130 countries. The end of the lawsuit means the 1997 Medicines Act can go into force, allowing parallel importation of patented drugs and generic substitution of off-patent medicines. The case not only sets a powerful precedent for other developing countries that want to implement similar legislation, but also symbolizes an important victory of the rights of patients over the commercial interests of drug companies. "This is a real triumph of David over Goliath, not only for us here in South Africa, but for people in many other developing countries who are struggling for access to health care," said Zackie Achmat of the South African AIDS activist group Treatment Action Campaign. Although further work is needed to improve access to antiretroviral treatment for AIDS in South Africa, an important barrier has now been knocked down. MSF thanks all of the thousands of US supporters who signed the MSF petition.