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Last Updated: Monday, 8 October 2007, 09:49 GMT 10:49 UK
Uganda opens first HIV drug plant
Aids orphans (file)
Sub-Saharan Africa has the world's highest rate of new HIV infections
A factory that will produce treatments for HIV/Aids is opening in Uganda, the first of its kind in the country.

It aims to reduce the cost of the vital medication by cutting import costs.

Locally produced anti-retroviral HIV drugs and anti-malaria drugs should be available by January, Uganda's health minister told the BBC's Network Africa.

President Yoweri Museveni will open the plant in the capital, Kampala. Uganda has won praise for its vigorous campaign against HIV/Aids.

A factory in Kenya has been manufacturing exactly the same three-in-one pill for several years and is providing the tablets to the East African region.

Transport costs

Health Minister Stephen Malinga told the BBC the aim was to reduce Uganda's reliance on expensive imports of vital HIV/Aids and malaria treatments from foreign countries.

The challenge is to make sure that the production is followed by a good distribution system that makes sure that the drug can reach all corners of the country
Leonard Okello
ActionAid International

Sub-Saharan Africa has the world's highest rates of HIV/Aids and malaria.

Ugandan drugs importer Quality Chemicals will produce the medicines locally with Indian pharmaceutical company Cipla, one of the world's largest producers of generic drugs. It hopes to sell them in Uganda and other African countries.

"[Ugandans] will have access to a regular supply of medication and also we hope it will be cheaper, because we will be eliminating the element of transportation and manufacture in foreign countries," Dr Malinga said.

Leonard Okello, from aid group ActionAid International, told the BBC that distributing the treatment was the biggest hurdle to overcome.

"The important thing is for the tablet to get on to the table..." he said.

"The challenge is to make sure that the production is followed by a good distribution system that makes sure that the drug can reach all corners of the country."

Access challenge

Finding affordable and effective medicines, which is already a huge challenge, is increasingly unreliable in Africa.

Quality Chemicals HQ in Kampala
African firms want to produce drugs locally instead of importing them

Many countries turned to Indian pharmaceutical companies that produce generic copies of drugs designed in the West at much lower prices.

But India tightened its patent laws in 2005, restricting its companies' ability to copy newer foreign drugs.

In South Africa, some companies are already producing the treatments locally. Other sub-Saharan African countries including Ghana, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia are working to start local production of the drugs.

According to World Health Organization figures, only 41% of Ugandans who need anti-retroviral therapy receive the treatment.

After reaching a peak of 30% in the 1990s, Uganda has cut its HIV/Aids figures to single digits.

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