Anti-retroviral drugs to cost US$400 per person per year
Stabroek News
May 20, 2002

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It will cost the Ministry of Health some US$400 a year per person for the triple therapy anti-retroviral drugs produced by the New GPC Inc, and it is anticipated that Guyana will need about $60 million worth of drugs this year, according to Minister of Health, Dr Leslie Ramsammy.

But according to the minister it is an affordable cost and he acknowledged that this would not always be the price of the triple therapy drugs.

Commercially, similar treatment could cost patients as much as US$10,000 per annum. Guyana will be able to offer the drugs at a much lower cost because of the decision of New GPC Inc to produce the patented drugs using raw material sourced from India. The government also recently announced that all HIV/AIDS patients in the public system would be treated regardless of the cost.

Speaking at a press conference held in his office recently, the minister said that the advantage that Guyana had over other countries, was that other countries could only negotiate for one or two drugs, since each pharmaceutical company produced one or two drugs. "Guyana could deal with a whole spectrum, so our doctor could at any one time change the triple therapy. We can add new drugs," the minister said.

According to him, the problem that many countries negotiating for drugs had was that no company had the triple therapy and it was necessary to substitute the drug they were buying with a second drug to obtain the therapy.

"Those are the subtleties of negotiations that people sometimes don't understand. So it is not just what price you got for which drug," the minister said.

Dr Ramsammy said that at present there were about 1,800 HIV and AIDS patients the ministry is aware of, 1,500 of whom were registered. However, the minister said not all of them would be treated at the same time, since there was no need to treat more than ten per cent of the AIDS patients and not the HIV positive patients. He said the criterion would be an active infection outside of HIV, adding that this was the same standard used in the US as the drugs did not cure the disease and as a result there was no point in using them all of the time.

He noted that the drugs controlled the viral load (the amount of the HIV virus in the blood) and the goal was to maintain a low viral load. "If you test HIV positive but you have no symptoms then you are not going to be treated," the minister said.

He said because of the lack of the drugs in the past, persons who might have tested positive for the virus did not come forward, but now that the drugs were there more persons were likely to make their case known.

However, he said, it was unlikely that all infected persons would come forward at once. He said he expected that the numbers would build over a period of time.

He pointed out that the advantage that the ministry had was that initially it would not have to buy huge amounts of the drugs. Ramsammy said that the ministry would be supplied with the drug as needed, "so we don't have to keep drugs for a long, long time."

According to the minister, at present only patients at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) were being administered the anti-retroviral drugs. He said that there were three doctors trained to administer the drugs - Dr Alli, head of the Genito-Urinary Medicine Clinic; Programme Manager of the National AIDS Programme Secretariat (NAPS), Dr Morris Edwards; and acting Director of Communicable Diseases, Dr Navindra Persaud.

Questioned on whether patients were being educated on the use of the drugs and their side effects the minister said "yes." He added it was for that reason that his ministry would ensure that the drugs were not distributed "willy-nilly" in the private sector.

Ramsammy said he wanted to ensure that there was an agreement between his ministry and the private sector that such measures would be put in place. "And we will facilitate the private sector, because they can use our counselling for example so we can educate their patients for them if they want," the minister said.

He disclosed that there was ongoing discussion between NAPS and the St Joseph Mercy Hospital about how the drugs would be administered at the hospital.

He pointed out that the testing for the disease had also become a major challenge as it cost more than US$100 for a test and that was now a limitation.

He said Guyana was pushing for the next global negotiations to bring testing prices down.