Cheap AIDS drug deal to help 75,000 in Caribbean By Ben Hirschler
Guyana Chronicle
July 11, 2002

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`There are some countries that will still not be able to afford these prices -- Haiti, Jamaica, Guyana, just to name a few" - Dr. Denzil Douglas, Prime Minister, St. Kitts & Nevis

BARCELONA, Spain, (Reuters) - Caribbean nations signed a deal yesterday with six leading pharmaceutical firms to secure price discounts of up to 90 per cent on life-saving AIDS medicines.

Dr. Denzil Douglas, the Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, said the agreement would speed delivery of modern medicines over the next three years to some 75,000 people in the region, which has the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS after sub-Saharan Africa.

The agreement was signed at the 14th International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, where the issue of securing access to cheap antiretroviral medicines for poor countries has dominated discussions.

However, Douglas said the drugs that have transformed AIDS treatment in industrial countries would still remain out of reach for some governments and health departments would also investigate buying more copycat generic medicines.

``There are some countries that will still not be able to afford these prices -- Haiti, Jamaica, Guyana, just to name a few,'' he told reporters.

``And so the other option is working on the initiative of generics, and that is part of the arsenal we have included in order to ensure that as many people as possible are able to access these necessary antiretrovirals.''

The Caribbean has 420,000 people living with HIV or AIDS, representing 2.3 per cent of the adult population.

The deal signed by Douglas on behalf of the 15-nation Caribbean Community paves the way for substantial price reductions on a range of branded medicines.

The exact prices still have to be hammered out between individual governments and the six drug companies involved -- GlaxoSmithKline, Roche Holding AG, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co, Merck & Co Inc and Abbott Laboratories Inc.

Officials said the level of discount would vary according to the relative wealth of different countries. In some cases Caribbean states will enjoy the same 90 per cent price cuts given to African countries under a World Health Organisation-backed access scheme.

Douglas said the region aimed to give antiretrovirals to 15,000 people in the first year as a result of the agreement, with a further 25,000 added in year two and 35,000 in the third year.

Some 50,000 people in the Caribbean who are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are estimated to need treatment urgently.