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MSF's medicine co-ordinator Daniel Burman
"Many more people will be able to be treated for aids"
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Wednesday, 7 February, 2001, 21:28 GMT
Indian firm offers cheap Aids drugs
Aids sufferer in South Africa
Many sufferers cannot afford vital drugs
An Indian drugs company is planning to supply expensive anti-Aids drugs to the world's poor for less than a dollar a day.

Bombay-based Cipla Ltd is offering the triple-cocktail treatment to international aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF)

This is my contribution to fighting Aids

Cipla chairman Yusuf Hamiede

Similar drug therapies can cost between $10,000 and $15,000 per patient per year, far beyond the reach of a huge majority of sufferers.

Cipla will sell the anti-retroviral cocktail to MSF at the knock-down price on condition the Paris-based agency distributes the drugs for free.

Three-tier pricing

"We are offering the drugs at a humanitarian price," said Cipla chairman Yusuf Hamied.

"This is my contribution to fighting Aids," he said.

More than 36m people in the world now live with HIV and Aids, over 70 percent of whom live in the poverty-stricken countries of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Mr Hamied said Cipla had created a three-tier pricing scheme, under which wholesalers would pay $1,200 per patient per year, governments would pay $600, and MSF would get the cheapest rate of $350.

An MSF spokesman said a pilot project to distribute the drugs could be operational "very soon".

The Indian group makes cheap copies of drugs that are patent-protected elsewhere in the world.

The Aids cocktail comprises three drugs - stavudine, lamivudine and nevirapine.

Aids drugs
Cocktail: Indian firms make cheap copies

Local laws allow Indian firms to make the drugs as long as they use a process that differs from the original patented process.

Leading multinational drug companies recently negotiated deals with some African nations worst affected by Aids offering a ninety percent discount.

But the Cipla offer will undercut even that.

Phil Thomson, a spokesman for GlaxoSmithKlein - which holds patents on lamivudine - was sceptical.

"It would appear that the offer is partially one of donation. As a consequence of that, questions have to be raised about sustainability of the offer," he said.

"Certainly questions need to be answered."

Drug companies accused

Drug companies in rich nations have often been accused of putting profits ahead of any commitment to combating an epidemic which is decimating populations in developing countries.

MSF has long campaigned for the cost of anti-Aids drugs to be reduced.

Last weekend, Brazil threatened to copy two of the most expensive Aids drugs if the makers do not lower their prices. The US said copying the drugs violates patent rules and has complained to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The involvement in the dispute of the WTO could eventually allow the US to impose sanctions on Brazil for violating patent rules giving the pharmaceuticals exclusive rights to produce the drugs.

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See also:

03 Feb 01 | Americas
Brazil in US Aids drugs row
23 Nov 99 | Health
HIV hits 50 million
24 Oct 00 | Aids
Aids drugs factfile
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