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New hope in Aids fight
The agreement should make drugs more affordable
Some of the world's biggest pharmaceuticals firms have announced dramatic reductions in the price of Aids drugs in the developing world where many sufferers are priced out of treatment.

Aids Special Report
The move follows a decision by the US to allow the sale of cheaper, generic drugs to Africa, in a bid to combat the threat of Aids.

The move is a huge boost for Africa where the UN estimates more than 11 million people have died of the disease and more than 22 million have HIV which can lead to Aids.

Child with Aids
Many children are among the Aids victims
UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said: "We are extremely positive and very thrilled that this is happening.

"People with HIV will benefit from this deal."

Five major firms which make patented HIV drugs announced after talks with the United Nations that they would cut prices and introduce other initiatives to improve access to their products.

A spokesman for one of the five, the UK-based Glaxo-Wellcome, said prices would be cut immediately by 85%.

Funding call

The firm's combination therapy, Combivir - previously costing an average of $16.50 a day - would be slashed to $2 a day, said the spokesman.

The Swiss giant Roche says its products will also be cut substantially in price, and it will offer free logistics support.

The other firms involved in the deal are two US companies - Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb - and the Germany firm Boehringer Ingelheim.

Bill Clinton
The US Government has declared Aids a threat to national security
The head of the World Health Organisation, former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, told the BBC the agreement would help patients but much work remained to be done.

"This is the starting point of the process," she said.

"We are calling for a much greater effort by governments, societies and donor countries to improve the health systems and infrastructures, because without that people will not be able to access these drugs," she said.

Mrs Brundtland said the drugs companies were responding to public pressure to act on the unfairness of a situation in which the cost of treatment was beyond the reach of poorer countries.)

The US described as "very substantial" its announcement that it would no longer automatically seek to stop African countries from licensing or developing generic forms of drugs patented by US pharmaceutical companies.

Research fears

The move follows a recent declaration that Aids was a national security threat to the US.

Drugs companies have described the US decision as "undesirable and inappropriate".

They argue that giving permission to local drug manufacturers in Africa to make generic copies of Aids-fighting drugs violated patent regulations and could damage future research.

"We recognise that Aids is a major problem, but weakening intellectual property rights is not the solution," said Alan Holmer, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

The BBC's Ben Brown
"A breakthrough with potentially enormous consequences"
Peter Piot of UNAIDS talks to the BBC:
"We are very very positive, very thrilled"
See also:

11 May 00 | Africa
06 May 00 | Africa
01 May 00 | Americas
12 May 99 | Aids
23 Nov 99 | Health
18 Sep 99 | Africa
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