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The BBC's Samantha Simmonds
"Many go simply untreated"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 21 February, 2001, 18:51 GMT
Kenyan challenge to Aids drug prices
Aids sufferer
Millions of sufferers urgently need treatment
In what could become a important test of international law, an orphanage for HIV-positive children in Kenya has announced it will order Aids drugs from Cipla, an Indian drug manufacturer supplying medication at an affordable rate.

It is the darker side of capitalism... people are dying because they will not reduce their prices

Angelo d'Agostino, Aids orphanage director
The Nairobi orphanage's director, Father Angelo d'Agostino, says his decision was prompted by the "outrageous" cost of official treatment - currently $3,000 per month.

Buying cheaper drugs, he says, will enable him to treat an additional 20 children every month - but the move will bring him into direct conflict with the Kenyan government, and international drugs companies.

The Indian group makes cheap 'generic' copies of drugs that are patent-protected elsewhere in the world. The United States says this is illegal and has complained to the World Trade Organisation.

Father d'Agostino said the children in his care could wait no longer and that the continuing high prices of official drugs reflected the "darker side of capitalism".

Africa 'held to ransom'

He accused the big pharmaceutical companies of holding Africa to ransom and described the children in his care as "on the brink."

Child Aids sufferer
Millions of child sufferers urgently need medication
"Some of them have skin problems and lung problems, respiratory problems which we can more-or-less control, but every day the virus is increasing in number and it's only a matter of time until it overcomes them," he added.

Bringing generic drugs into the country may not be a problem for Father d'Agostino if they had been donated.

But buying them breaks Kenya's current laws, and could invoke the ire of the international drug companies.

Price anger

His move comes amid demands from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Kenya for the companies to honour a commitment made last year to reduce their prices.

Indian researcher from the drugs company Cipla
An Indian company is promising cheaper treatment
The NGOs say an offer by drug companies last year to reduce prices by up to 85% has not been followed through, and what price reductions there have been are being offered piecemeal to individual doctors.

On Wednesday, drug firm Glaxo Smith Kline, announced that it would offer HIV drugs at up to 90% discount to non-profit organisations, as long as these organisations take on the task of delivering the medicine to the patients.

But a spokeswoman for the medical group Medecins Sans Frontieres in Nairobi said this was not enough.

She said most NGOs were not in a position to medically supervise the distribution of the drugs and an across-the-board slashing of prices was urgently needed.

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See also:

24 Oct 00 | Aids
Aids drugs factfile
11 Jul 00 | Africa
Aids threat to Africa's economy
21 Feb 01 | Business
Glaxo offers cheaper Aids drugs
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