DEVELOPMENT REPORT - Companies Cut Prices of AIDS Drugs

By Cynthia Kirk

This is Bill White with the VOA Special English DEVELOPMENT REPORT.

Five of the world's largest drug companies have agreed to reduce the price of drugs designed to control the disease AIDS for people in developing countries. The agreement was reached after talks between United Nations health officials and drug companies earlier this month.

Experts say the agreement is an important step in efforts to help millions of people in poor countries get costly anti-AIDS drugs. UN officials have been urging the drug industry to cut drug prices for poor countries. But they say there was limited action from them until now.

The drug companies are Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Glaxo Wellcome, Boehringer-Ingelheim and Hoffman-La Roche. They will work with five international agencies.

Several of the companies are promising to sell their drugs for only a little more than the cost of manufacturing them. Some reports suggest the drug prices may decrease by as much as eighty percent below the prices of the drugs in the United States.

The drugs AZT and Three-T-C are two of the powerful drugs found to help slow the progress of AIDS. The treatment often requires the use of another drug called a protease inhibitor. These drugs have been used in the United States and Europe for several years.

The agreement may make it possible for tens of thousands of people to get the drugs in Africa, where the disease is spreading fastest. More than twenty-million people in southern African nations are believed to be infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. About eighty-percent of the people in the world with the AIDS virus are in southern Africa.

Even with the new prices, however, anti-AIDS drugs will still cost too much for most Africans. The combination of three or more drugs may cost up to two-hundred dollars a month. In addition, experts say the plan must be combined with efforts to teach people how to use the drugs. And there must be trained medical people to supervise the complex drug treatment. The disease could worsen or develop into drug-resistant viruses if the drugs are not taken correctly.

UN health officials called for stronger efforts for AIDS prevention and health care by governments in affected countries. And they called for more financial assistance from industrial countries.

This VOA Special English DEVELOPMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Bill White.

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