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Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 14:49 GMT
Thailand offers cheaper Aids treatment
A vaccine shot is administered in a clinic in Bangkok
Many HIV sufferers have struggled to pay for treatment
Thailand has taken a major step in improving the provision of health care for its Aids victims by offering a cocktail of anti-HIV drugs in just one pill.

Donations at an anti-Aids rally in Bangkok
Thailand is confronting the disease
The country said on Thursday that the treatment would be sold in government hospitals from next month.

The offer of three drugs in one tablet will make them significantly cheaper for the estimated 70,000 Thais who carry the virus.

Thailand is only the second nation in Asia to offer the cocktail. India began making it last year.

Cheaper

Health Minister Sudarat Keyurapan told a news conference that the three-in-one treatment, named GPO-Vir, will be sold for 20 baht ($0.45) per tablet.

The cost of a month's supply of the drugs will fall from the current 5,000 baht ($114) to 1,200 baht ($27).

Mr Keyurapan said 120,000 tablets have already been produced.

The new treatment can be offered without legal problems because the three companies that produce the drugs - Nevirapine, Stavudine, and Lamivudine - do not hold patents in Thailand.

The drugs are anti-retroviral, meaning that they slow down the replication of the HIV virus that causes Aids. They can also help control Aids itself.

Improved health

If they are taken regularly, they can improve a patient's quality of life by reducing the damage the virus does to the body.

The cocktail not only makes the drugs cheaper but also makes them easier to take.

International humanitarian group Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said it was a significant step:

"Thailand is moving toward trying to offer the treatment to as many people as possible within its financial constraints and constraints of the health system," said Paul Cawthorne, head of MSF's Thai office.

He explained that although developing countries are not blighted by patent restrictions on the drugs, many cannot take advantage of this freedom because they do not have a pharmaceutical industry capable of producing the drugs.

"More and more countries who have capacity to (produce the cocktail) should start doing it for the benefit of humankind," he said.

The issue of how to make anti-HIV drugs cheaper is expected to dominate this year's UN Aids conference in July.

Correspondents say HIV spreads easily in Thailand, where more than a million people work in the sex industry, and nearly 10 million foreigners visit every year.

See also:

25 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Burma faces Aids explosion
01 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Thailand launches $1 health scheme
28 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan blood scandal official convicted
25 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
New Aids fears in Thailand
23 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
China comes clean on Aids
09 Aug 01 | Europe
Aids scandals around the world
08 Apr 99 | Medical notes
Blood: The risks of infection
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