The U.S. government, under fire for choosing a former drug company executive to head its $15 billion AIDS program, said on Tuesday it was ready to use cheap generic anti-HIV drugs to fight the disease in Africa. The appointment earlier this month of Randall Tobias, the retired chairman and CEO of Eli Lilly, was attacked by activists who said it showed the U.S. AIDS policy was tied to the interests of the pharmaceutical industry. But U.S. officials at an international AIDS conference said Washington would buy lower-cost generics if they were cost-effective, despite industry concerns that copied versions of patented drugs undermine innovation. "We certainly want to get the highest quality at the lowest price," said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "That may mean getting it from the (brand-name) companies who bring their price low enough so it is feasible to be part of the program. It does not exclude generic drugs. There will be a number of different approaches depending on the country."
Until Tuesday Bush administration officials had opposed the use of generic anti-HIV medications to treat HIV-positive people in developing countries, claiming that World Trade Organization plans to allow poor countries to override drug patents could be abused to make cheap copies of non-disease-related medications, like Viagra. The United States was the sole holdout in backing a WTO resolution permitting developing nations to make or import generic medications because of drug patent concerns.
Fauci was sharing a platform in Paris with Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson, who urged other countries to follow the U.S. lead in doing more in the fight against AIDS. Thompson also chairs the board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria--launched a year ago at the behest of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan--which held a separate meeting for donors in Paris on Wednesday. Thompson said he was "cautiously optimistic" the fund would raise some new money this year, but noted it would fall $500-800 million short of the amount needed to fund all the programs due to be approved by its scientific experts in 2003.