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Friday, 16 November, 2001, 15:34 GMT
China demands cheaper Aids drugs
Chinese woman looks at a display at a sex education exhibition in Beijing
China is slowly becoming more aware of safe sex
By the BBC science reporter Helen Sewell

Two pharmaceutical companies in China have applied to start producing cheap, generic versions of the drugs which combat HIV, the virus that leads to Aids.

The drugs are currently made by some of the world's largest pharmaceutical organisations, which hold the international patents for the medicines.

The Chinese Government wants to negotiate cheaper deals with them, but if the discussions fail, it has not ruled out allowing Chinese firms to make similar drugs.

China has about 600,000 people with HIV, and the figures increase by almost a third each year.

But anti-HIV drugs are prohibitively expensive for many and the cost can mean the difference between life and death.

Price negotiations

Chinese firm Shanghai Desano says it can lower the price from $10,000 to less than $400 a year per person. The state-owned Northeast General Pharmaceutical Factory has also applied to produce generic versions of the drugs.

Aids sufferer Yu Daguan shows the lesions on his back, symptoms of the disease
Rates of HIV are increasing rapidly
China's government is starting to take the Aids threat seriously, and top Chinese and United Nations health officials and major foreign drug firms have been attending the country's first national Aids conference in Beijing this week.

The government says it has no plans to break international patent agreements on HIV drugs, and is trying to negotiate a better price deal with official manufacturers. However there are loopholes in Chinese law, which could allow generic drug makers to copy and sell medicines alongside the patented version.

China is not the first country to demand cheaper HIV drugs. Earlier this year 39 leading pharmaceutical companies backed down in a court battle with the South African Government, which was seeking the right to produce or import cheaper versions of patented drugs.

South Africa's largest generic drug manufacturer now has the right to produce the drugs at a cost to patients of around $2 a day.

  • In another development, China is to introduce methadone treatment for the first time in a project aimed at helping to wean heroin users off their addiction.

    The measure - intended partly to stop the spread of HIV through shared needles - was announced on the last day of a conference in Beijing about Aids.

    Official estimates say more than two-thirds of China's HIV infections have been caused by shared needles.

    Correspondents say the new effort to combat Aids marks a shift in attitude by the Chinese authorities, who have in the past shown disdain for measures to control a disease seen as something associated with social undesirables.

  •  WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    BBC science reporter Helen Sewell
    "China's first Aids conference has produced positive ideas of change"
    See also:

    13 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
    Closed door mars China Aids meeting
    11 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
    China court orders Aids compensation
    23 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
    China comes clean on Aids
    05 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
    Asia warned of Aids epidemic
    30 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
    Bad blood spreads Aids in China
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