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Sunday, 12 August, 2001, 00:00 GMT 01:00 UK
Region seeks cheap Aids drugs
A Mayan family in Guatemala
Impoverished Central America can't afford the drugs at the moment
By Mike Lanchin in Central America

Six Central American nations have announced their intention to negotiate lower prices for Aids drugs from major multinational pharmaceutical companies in a bid to permit greater access to life-saving medicines.

The decision was adopted at a meeting of health ministers from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama and Nicaragua.

The South African health minister celebrates after the ruling against multinationals
South Africa recently won a battle to sell cheaper Aids drugs
In Latin America and the Caribbean, an estimated 1.8 million people live with HIV/Aids, of the 36.1 million infected throughout the world.

The Honduran Health Minister, Plutarco Castellanos, said that, individually, the countries have received offers for discounts from some of the drug manufacturers.

Mass negotiation

One firm - Merck, Sharp and Dohme - has offered to slash the price of two of their products by up to 85%, but the Central American health ministers have agreed that they should aim for across-the-board discounts from all the companies by dealing with them in bulk.

The exorbitant price of the cocktail of drugs that can prolong the lives of HIV and Aids sufferers makes them largely inaccessible for the majority of patients in the region.

Cash-strapped health services can barely provide primary medical care for their citizens.

Aids has become increasingly widespread throughout Central America, with Honduras alone reporting more than 15,000 registered cases.

Sex education and the availability of condoms are still hindered by the strong influence of the Roman Catholic Church in these countries.

See also:

19 Apr 01 | Africa
Cheaper drugs a long way off
19 Apr 01 | Africa
Head-to-head: Aids drugs
19 Apr 01 | Health
SA Aids case: The repercussions
19 Apr 01 | Health
Aids epidemic 'underestimated'
18 Apr 01 | Africa
In pictures: Aids drug protests
15 Mar 01 | Africa
Analysis: Aids drugs and the law
21 Feb 01 | Business
Glaxo offers cheaper Aids drugs
24 Oct 00 | Aids
Aids drugs factfile
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