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Tina Rosenberg of the New York Times
"Drug companies are always claiming that price is not the issue"
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Tsetsaily Famtan
"The employee pays the 10%... it amounts to an affordable sum of money"
 real 28k

The BBC's Mark Gregory
"Retroviral treatments sold at full price in rich countries can cost over $10,000 per patient each year"
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Wednesday, 7 March, 2001, 17:53 GMT
US firm offers cheap Aids drugs
Pretoria demonstration
South Africans have been demanding affordable Aids medicines
A US drugs company has said it will reduce the price of two Aids treatments for poorer countries.

The company, Merck, says the move means it will make no profit on the drugs, when sold in developing countries.

Cipla laboratory
Cipla have produced far cheaper copies of anti-Aids drugs
The move comes a month after an Indian manufacturer offered supplies of generic anti-Aids drugs at prices that far undercut the costs charged by Western multinationals.

Developing countries - especially in Africa - have long complained that anti-Aids drugs were simply unaffordable.

Prices slashed

Merck said that it will make Crixivan available at a cost of $600 per patient per annum, and Stocrin at $500 per patient per annum.

These prices represent a reduction of 40%-50% on the already discounted rates offered by Merck to African countries last year.

Pretoria demonstration
African countries cannot afford Aids drugs at Western prices
"More remains to be done by the humanitarian and healthcare communities, but ... Merck is stepping up our own response to the urgent humanitarian need in Africa and other regions of the developing world," said Raymond Gilmartin, Merck's chairman.

The prices will apply to all customers - including governments, non-governmental organisations and private companies.

The drugs will have to be used in the country concerned, and cannot be re-exported.

Last month, the British-based GlaxoSmithKline extended substantial discounts on Aids medicines, which were already available to governments, to include non-government health organisations in poorer countries.

Court case

Countries in sub-Saharan Africa have long sought cheaper drugs for the region where 25 million of the 36 million people suffering from Aids live.

Pretoria demonstration
Pressure has been growing for worldwide action on drugs prices
In February, Bombay-based Cipla Ltd announced it planned to offered a cocktail of Aids drugs for as little as $350 a year, or less than $1 a day.

These are generic copies of drugs developed by Western pharmaceutical companies.

A group of Western companies is taking the South African Government to court to try and overturn a law that would allow the import of generic drugs in an emergency.

The companies say the current law undermines patent protection for their medicines.

The World Health Organisation on Wednesday said that - contrary to earlier reports - it was not supporting the South African Government in the case.

"The WHO reiterates that it has a general policy not to take position in litigation in member states," the organisation said.

In neighbouring Botswana, the country's biggest diamond company is to start subsidising the supply of life-prolonging drugs for HIV-positive employees.

The company, Debswana, said it would pay 90% of the cost of the drugs for any of its employees, or their spouses, who carry the virus that causes Aids.

A leading US demographer predicts a negative population growth of up to 3% in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana by 2003.

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See also:

21 Feb 01 | Business
Glaxo offers cheaper Aids drugs
07 Nov 00 | Africa
Aids 'kills 50%' in Botswana
28 Nov 00 | Africa
Africa's Aids burden
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