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Policy

AIDS Progress

Lower drug prices are helping the fight against HIV/AIDS in poor countries

by Michael McCoy
August 21, 2006 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 84, ISSUE 34

Appearing at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto last week, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and former president Bill Clinton agreed that drug prices are no longer the roadblock they once were to fighting AIDS in poor nations.

Gates, whose Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has directed hundreds of millions of dollars toward HIV/AIDS prevention, said at the meeting that "the world's capacity to treat people is not as much gated by the drug price now as it is by the personnel issues," which include shortages of doctors, nurses, and outreach workers.

Gates credited the Clinton Foundation for helping to bring down the cost of first-line HIV treatments to $130 per person per year. He added that first-line treatment costs could go still lower and called for more work to lower the price of newer second-line therapies.

Pressured by activists, drug companies continue to expand availability of their HIV treatments in the developing world. Gilead Sciences announced in Toronto that it has licensed three Indian firms to produce generic Viread for low-income countries. Doctors Without Borders had criticized Gilead for not making the drug available enough under its own access program.

Also responding to criticism, Abbott Laboratories announced that it will start registering Aluvia, a nonrefrigerated version of its second-line HIV treatment Kaletra, in the developing world. Abbott said it will continue to sell the treatment for $500 per person per year in Africa and decrease the price to $2,200 in low-income countries.

The conference attracted an estimated 24,000 attendees and more than 4,500 scientific abstracts, many on vaccines and other agents that may prevent HIV. Melinda Gates highlighted her foundation's backing of research into microbicides that would empower women to prevent HIV infection. She also urged drug companies to make their HIV treatments available to researchers who want to test them as preventatives.

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