Glimmer of hope on HIV/AIDS front
- Health Minister reports By Shirley Thomas
Guyana Chronicle
October 7, 2001

GUYANA is soon to access drugs for persons living with HIV/AIDS at a cost of US$250-$350 a person per year and this is to be made available by November, Health Minister, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy has announced.

He told a news conference Friday that Guyana has effectively lobbied for a lowering of the cost of the drugs, which was initially about US$10,000 per person per year, over the last several years.

Earlier this year, pharmaceutical companies manufacturing these anti-retroviral drugs, like good corporate citizens, agreed to reduce the price from US$10,000 per person per year to between US$1,200 and US$1,000, he said.

The companies had pointed out that because of the high cost of research - running into millions of dollars - it was not economically feasible to sell for less initially.

However, according to the Health Minister, they recently reported that they have now recovered the initial cost and will be in a position to sell cheaper.

"While the enormity of the problem cannot escape us, there is a glimmer of hope," Ramsammy said.

He pointed out that countries such as Brazil, Thailand, Uganda, Zambia, and The Bahamas are showing that the problem is not beyond being overcome.

"We must learn from both the best and poor countries," he said.

The minister explained that this "dramatically reduced" cost to Guyana has come about after negotiations and lobbying on his part.

He told reporters he had persistently premised his case on the fact that regardless of whether the price is US$10,000 or US$1,000, Guyana would still not be able to afford it.

He has entered into negotiations with India and Brazil and it is expected that Guyana's supplies will come from those countries.

India supplies the drugs to Thailand and Tanzania at a cost of US$300 per person per year.

Ramsammy, however, noted that the negotiating prices would not be made available to the private sector but only to negotiating governments.

A University of the West Indies report has projected that the HIV/AIDS programme will cost about US$45M annually and already Guyana has been spending about G$400M a year, he said.

And for anti-retroviral drugs alone, excluding patient care, the Ministry of Health will have to spend about US$6M per year, or G$1 Billion, he said.

That amount, the minister said, represents 20 per cent of the entire health budget for the year.

"Therefore, there is going to be a big challenge ahead of us," he added.

Asked about the sustainability of the programme, Ramsammy assured that once started, it will be sustained and not be placed on the back burner, regardless of the direction in which the economy goes.

"It is not an option, it is an imperative," he affirmed, adding that in Guyana, fighting back the problem of HIV/AIDS is a daunting imperative to which an holistic approach should be taken.

The WHO report for 2000 revealed that after Haiti, Guyana has the next highest incidence of AIDS in the Caribbean.

And outside of Sub-Sahara Africa, the Caribbean is the region with the highest population affected by the dreaded disease, it said.

In the Caribbean, AIDS has been identified as the leading cause of death for persons within the 15-45 years age group - the most productive sector.