Low cost HIV drug to be available from November By Samantha Alleyne
Stabroek News
October 6, 2001

The government yesterday announced that drugs to battle the deadly HIV virus will be made available at a fraction of their cost from next month - a major step forward in battling the scourge which has gripped Guyana.

Anti?retroviral drug therapy will be provided at an affordable price to HIV positive persons by November, according to Health Minister, Dr Leslie Ramsammy.

The minister said that the drug would cost between US$250 and US$350 per person per year but did not say how persons would be able to access it. Commercially the therapy would cost between US$10,000 - US$12,000 per annum.

Ramsammy did hint that the possibility existed that the government could pay for the treatment for the infected persons. This could prove very costly for the government as the minister noted that some $400 million was spent yearly on HIV and AIDS and providing the drugs for all infected persons will cost the government some US$6 million.

"The challenge is, how are we going to do it?" the minister asked but said that his ministry was moving towards a comprehensive treatment and care programme.

The drugs would not only be available to the public sector as is happening in some countries, but also in the private sector so that all infected persons might have access to the cheaper therapy.

Guyana is said to be the country with the second highest number of AIDS cases in the Caribbean and the availability of the drugs at a cheaper rate would be welcomed by those affected by the dreadful disease.

According to statistics made available by the National AIDS Programme Secretariat, for the first half of last year there were 577 cases of HIV infection with 337 being males and 240 females. These figures only represent the cases that were reported to the Genito-Urinary Medicine Clinic.

During 1999, 601 cases of HIV infection were reported with ten of the cases being paediatric manifestations of AIDS.

The report said that Region Four accounts for 70% of all reported cases of AIDS, while Regions Six and Ten accounted for 24% and the remaining seven regions, six per cent. Georgetown accounts for 80% of all reported cases in Region Four.

The report said that Guyana now has a generalised epidemic which has moved form the vulnerable groups to the general population and it is estimated that 3-5% of the population may be infected with only 20% being aware of their status. The Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus (HIV) eventually leads to AIDS or AIDS-related complex.

Ramsammy yesterday declined to state where Guyana would be obtaining the anti-retroviral drugs from and only said that the government had been negotiating at the multinational level. Discussions had previously been held with the Indian company Cipla and other Indian firms have also been making the drugs available to customers in developing countries.

The ongoing negotiations have borne fruit since, according to the minister, the drugs were previously available to the government for US$12,000 per person per annum.

Dr Ramsammy said that the pharmaceutical companies have now stated that they have recovered the monies spent on research for the drugs and as such they can now reduce the prices. The minister said that Guyana was in a position to accept the drugs but the ministry would have to have trained personnel to deal with people living with HIV. He described this as a weakness which the ministry will be addressing and disclosed two doctors will be going on a training programme in Mexico shortly and additionally a hospital in New York will be sending trained personnel to Guyana to conduct workshops.

Dr Ramsammy was speaking at a press conference held in his office yesterday where he gave the media an update on his recent attendance at the caucus of CARICOM ministers of health held in Washington between September 19 and 23 and the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) executive meeting which ended on September 29.

At the PAHO meeting, the minister said, he was elected president of the executive council made up of nine members of the Americas and he will head the committee for one year.

According to the minister at the two meetings vital issues were discussed which were very important to Guyana including HIV and AIDS. He said a resolution was passed for all CARICOM countries to develop strategic plans and implementation programmes and noted that while Guyana already had a plan and it had not been able to implement it.

The minister said within the next few weeks the plan would be revised and less emphasis would be placed on prevention and a treatment and care plan would be implemented.

The programme for the reduction of mother-to-child transmission of the virus has been implemented and the minister said that the ministry was working on equipping its health personnel in dealing with those expectant mothers who are afflicted with the virus. In that direction a training programme for 32 nurses in Region Four began yesterday at the Ocean View International Hotel and another such programme will be held for nurses in Region Six next month.

The minister yesterday stressed that the fight against the killer disease must include all and called upon all citizens to do something on World AIDS Day which is observed on December 1. He hoped that all sectors would recognise the day and promote programmes in enlightening persons about the disease.