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Monday, 8 October, 2001, 08:52 GMT 09:52 UK
Cheap drugs drive for poor countries
Patient
Many drugs are prohibitively expensive in developing countries
International Development Secretary Clare Short will meet pharmaceutical company bosses on Monday to discuss ways to make drugs more accessible to developing countries.

The meeting comes as research commissioned by the charity Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) shows that 79% of Britons think the government should make sure people in poor countries have more access to drugs for HIV related illnesses.


The public wants the government to take action to make sure this happens

VSO spokesman
The research found 87% of people felt it would be better if people living with HIV/Aids in developing countries paid less for medicines than the prices charged in the UK.

It also found that 79% of people wanted the UK Government to take action to reduce drug prices in poor countries.

Strength of feeling

A spokesman for VSO, which works through volunteers in 74 of the world's poorest countries, said: "The strength of feeling took us by surprise.

"The public not only think medicines should be cheaper in developing countries but they also want the government to take action to make sure this happens."

The charity warned that millions of people in the developing world were denied treatment because of the cost of medicines.

The spokesman highlighted the case of the drug fluconazole, which is used to treat an often fatal form of HIV/Aids-related meningitis.

He said: "A month's course costs about 270 in both Kenya and in the UK, where it is paid for by the NHS.

"This is more than the 236 the average Kenyan earns in a year and takes this drug completely out of the reach of the vast majority of Kenyans, who have to buy their own medicines.

"In terms of relative salary, this would be as if someone in the UK had to personally pay around 17,000 every month for this vital medicine."

Blueprint

The charity has drawn up a blueprint called Street Price in an effort to encourage decision-makers to tackle the crisis.

If implemented, the framework would include a database of low prices to promote competition, a global forum for developing countries to negotiate the lowest charges and price caps to keep costs down.

VSO said simple mechanisms, such as different packaging and different colour tablets, could be put in place to make sure cheap drugs sold to poor countries did not flow back illegally into Britain.

VSO chief executive Mark Goldring said: "We urge our government to take a lead in promoting a global framework for low drug prices, in which companies from all countries compete to drive prices down."

See also:

23 May 01 | Health
Africa to get cheap malaria drug
07 Mar 01 | Africa
US firm offers cheap Aids drugs
23 Aug 01 | Business
Brazil to break Aids patent
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