By Advocate.com Editors
Originally published on Advocate.com January 17 2003 1:00 AM ET
Six pharmaceutical companies involved with the Accelerating Access program, a joint effort headed by the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS and the World Health Organization, have announced that they will increase the amount of discounted HIV antiretrovirals they provide to Africa. More than 35,500 HIV-positive Africans receive steeply discounted anti-HIV drugs through the program as of March 2002, but that is only about 0.01% of the HIV-positive people living in Africa. Officials at drugmakers Merck, GlaxoSmithKline, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Roche, Abbott Laboratories, and Boehringer Ingelheim say they had increased supplies in 2002 to Africa and that they expect the number of Africans currently being treated to be significantly higher than the March 2002 figure. They also pledged to again increase shipments of the drugs to African nations.
Critics say the companies' efforts are too little, too late. "There are 6 million people in urgent need of receiving antiretroviral therapy in the world, and the vast majority are not getting it," said Raffaella Ravinetto, pharmaceutical coordinator at Doctors Without Borders' Geneva office. "The fact that so few are receiving treatment is a demonstration that this procedure is not effective enough." But Jeffrey Sturchio, vice president of external affairs for Merck, said the UNAIDS/WHO program's goal of getting anti-HIV treatment to 3 million HIV-positive Africans can be met only if the "international community backs up drug price cuts with money to pay for distribution and health care on the ground. It's obvious, more resources need to be made available."