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Saturday, 1 December, 2001, 04:35 GMT
Drugs boost for World Aids Day
Condoms being tested with water in Durex factory, Thailand
Thailand's state campaign has slashed infection rates
This year's World Aids Day has been ushered in with an announcement by the international drugs company Glaxo Smith Kline that it is cutting the price of two key anti-AIDS drugs for sale in South Africa.

Another drugs company has agreed plans to lower the cost of treatment in China, while Nigeria and Thailand have both taken steps to improve care.

Glaxo Smith Kline's 20% cut for South African private sector patients, which takes effect next year, affects the price of 3TC (lamivudine) and Combivir.

Mother weeps alongside her three-month-old infected son in Durban
Most South Africans cannot afford private sector health care.

The price of a retroviral preparation which can prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child will now fall to less than $80 a month.

However, the South African Government has previously refused to distribute Aids drugs on cost grounds, despite cut-price offers.

In China, Merck Sharp and Dohme said it would cut the Chinese prices of two drugs from this month, the French news agency AFP reported.

The company signed an agreement with the Health Ministry to cut by two-thirds the price of Crixivan and Stocrin.

Governments act

Elsewhere in Africa, the Nigerian Government marked World Aids Day by announcing that a long-awaited scheme to distribute free generic drugs to Aids sufferers would finally begin on 10 December.

The scheme is expected to cover 10,000 adults and 5,000 children in its first year.

Indian dancers mark World Aids Day in Calcutta
India has 4m sufferers
However, the number of Nigerians with the disease is currently put at 3.5m.

There was good news for sufferers in Thailand where the government announced that from next year they could receive hospital treatment under an existing low-cost government health scheme - the "30-baht programme".

The European Union also made a contribution by declaring it would work to help poorer countries take full advantage of an international agreement to make drugs cheaper.

It would "do all in its power to make sure that safe affordable drugs are available to all who need them ... especially in the world's poorer countries", the EU trade chief, Pascal Lamy, said in Brussels.

Aids awareness

Some leaders are marking the annual event with traditional appeals for safer sexual behaviour.

In Ethiopia, President Woldegiorgis Girma appealed to citizens countrymen to keep to "faithful one-to-one sexual relationships".

Ethiopia reported 3m cases of HIV in 2000 out of a total population of 62.8m, making it one of the countries hardest hit by the disease.

Activists in France have chosen to mark World Aids Day with a mass roller-skate through Paris on Saturday.

Police warned that central roads were likely to seize up in the afternoon as thousands of people whizzed into town.

China is airing its first TV drama about Aids - the tale of a businessman who becomes infected during a chance sexual encounter and then goes on to help other sufferers cope with the disease.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Emil Petrie
"Few countries have escaped the impact of aids"
Dr Bernard Schwartzlander, Epidemiologist
explains why there is such a big increase in the number of cases
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