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Thailand offers low-cost anti-HIV drugs to all its citizens

Thailand offers low-cost anti-HIV drugs to all its citizens

Thailand has announced it will offer HIV antiretroviral drugs at almost no cost to the nation's 500,000 HIV-positive people. "We will be the first country in the world to give every person living with AIDS access to antiretroviral drugs," the health ministry said in a statement Wednesday. The Thai-produced drugs--which slow the spread of HIV--will be added to a government health care initiative that provides basic care to all Thais for only 30 baht (U.S. 72 cents) per hospital visit, including services, tests, and medications. The 30-baht initiative was one of the populist policies instituted by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra when he took office for his first term in 2001. Critics say it has strained the public health system almost to the breaking point because local hospitals do not get properly reimbursed. Since Thailand discovered its first HIV patient in 1984, 1 million people are believed to have been infected, and about half have died. The country has been a trailblazer in developing cheap drug treatments. The Government Pharmaceutical Organization in March 2002 started producing a one-pill generic drug, called GPO-VIR, forcing down the cost of monthly treatment for one person from $500-$750 to $30. GPO-VIR contains the drugs stavudine, lamivudine, and nevirapine--a combination recommended by the World Health Organization. Thailand expanded its free antiretroviral program from 3,000 people to 10,000 in 2002 and to 50,000 people last year. It has also exported the medicine to neighboring countries and the technology for it as far as Africa. (AP)

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