Retro-Virals: Major Pact for Cheap Drugs

Thailand, Brazil, China, the Russian Federation, Nigeria and the Ukraine have signed a pact at the 15th International Aids Conference in Bangkok to cooperate in the production of generic drugs, lend mutual support in the improvement of respective health sectors, and pursue further research and development on HIV/AIDS drugs. This group of countries, all of whom have large populations of AIDS patients, began discussions last September to band together and work towards what the World Trade Organization has condoned as production of generic medicines in the face of a public health crisis. The group has received support from the WHO, UNAids, and Medecin Sans Frontieres, but has yet to hear from major pharmaceutical companies. –YaleGlobal

Retro-Virals: Major Pact for Cheap Drugs

Arthit Khwankhom
Wednesday, July 14, 2004

A landmark agreement between six countries – including Thailand – will give priority to increasing production of low-cost, generic versions of anti-retroviral medicines.

The agreement could improve access to medicines for as many as 10 million people.

Thailand, Brazil, China, the Russian Federation, Nigeria and the Ukraine formed a network to endorse the enforcement of major provisions of the Doha Declaration.

Low-cost, generic versions of branded anti-retroviral medication will be made by and for the populations of these six countries.

“Public health must come before commercial [interests],” said Alexandre Domingues Grangeiro, director of the Brazil Health Ministry’s National Aids Programme.

The Doha Declaration, adopted at the World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in 2001, confirmed provisions made under the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) that allow developing countries facing a public health crisis to use compulsory licensing measures to produce generic medicines.

When the network’s production of generics is up to scale, the price of brand-name drugs will drop, said Grangeiro, benefiting, in his opinion, those in need of life-saving treatment.

According to the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/Aids’ latest estimates, there are 3.6 million people living with HIV/Aids in Nigeria, 840,000 in China, 570,000 in Thailand, 860,000 in the Russian Federation and 360,000 in the Ukraine.

Using his own country as an example, Grangeiro said the price of anti-retroviral drugs in Brazil had already dropped by as much as 80 per cent.

The network also agreed to promote research and development of medications, including vaccinations, for HIV/Aids care, and build the capacity of respective health sectors through the exchange of knowledge, experience, technology and resources.

In order to implement the agreement, network countries say they will convene technical meetings during the course of this year to map out a detailed work plan. They are also looking to expand their coalition.

According to Grangeiro, India and South Africa were making their final decisions on joining the network.

“We are strong enough to face any future pressure,” he said.

Grangeiro said the initiative fund of US$1 million (Bt40 million) for the establishment of the network came from the Ford Foundation.

Preliminary discussions on forming the network began last September, and the pact was finally realised on Monday at the 15th International Aids Conference in Bangkok, when all of the member countries, minus Thailand, signed the agreement.

Deputy Public Health permanent secretary Pakdi Bhothisiri will sign the agreement today on behalf of Thailand.

Most of the countries’ representatives were ministerial- level officials.

Grangeiro said China was capable of supplying chemicals for the production of generic drugs, whereas the Russian federation was equipped with high technology for medical diagnosis.

He added that Monday’s agreement received positive responses from international non-governmental organisations, including WHO, UNAids and Medecin Sans Frontieres.

So far, there has not yet been any response to the network’s establishment from pharmaceutical giants.

(c) Nation Multimedia Group

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