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Friday, 30 November, 2001, 16:46 GMT
Aids drug prices 'not the only issue'
Demonstrators want the drugs to be made available through the South African state health system
Demonstrators want the drugs to be made available through the South African state health system
A leading drugs industry figure says that cheap drugs alone won't be enough to help African Aids patients.

Merck's former chief executive Donald de Korte says the problem is that the systems are often not in place to provide the kind of follow-up treatments needed with anti-retroviral drugs.

His comments to the BBC's World Business Report follow Merck's announcement this week that it is not planning further cuts in drug prices for poor countries, confident its current low prices can compete with generic drug companies.

Merck is closely involved with a cheap drugs initiative in Botswana, the only African government to have made a commitment to supply anti-retrovirals through the state health service.

Cipla laboratory
Generic companies offer cheaper drugs

Earlier this month, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) reached an agreement at its summit in Qatar to allow poor countries to skirt patent rules and get better access to cheaper drugs in certain circumstances.

Botswana is already rolling out a five year programme, subsidised by Merck, the Bill Gates Foundation and Bristol Myers Squibb.

Merck's former chief executive Donald de Korte told the BBC's World Business Report: "What we discovered is... even when there are no financial constraints, it is very difficult to actually implement the programme. A lot needs to be done in building up infrastructure to train and educate doctors, nurses, counselers."

"The current anti-retroviral therapy available is a very complex medication with a lot of side effects," he added.

"It is not only the cost of the medicine itself, it is also the way of monitoring the patient... which makes it very very costly."

Botswana's President Festus Mogae agrees that the drugs company initiative in his country doesn't necessarily mean everyone will get the treatment they need.

President Mogae told the BBC's World Business Report: "We are targeting 19,000 [patients] in the first year. We hope to increase that by 20,000 annually. It is not like blood pressure tablets, where you prescribe them and tell them how often you should take them."

President Mogae points out that without the programme, it would cost Botswana $3bn a year, a price tag it could not afford to pay.

Unlike in Botswana, the South African government insists these drugs are not viable within the public health system.

Dr Donald de Korte
"A lot needs to be done to implement the infrastructure"
Botswana President Festus Mogae
"We were the first in the field shouting for help"
See also:

28 Nov 01 | Africa
Africa devastated by Aids
27 Nov 01 | Africa
Hand out Aids drug says SA judge
09 Nov 01 | Health
Trade rules and cheap drugs
13 Nov 01 | Business
WTO confirms drugs deal
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