American restrictions are hampering AIDS control
A French study has confirmed an earlier American study – anti-retroviral drugs manufactured by Indian pharmaceutical companies Cipla and Ranbaxy are as good as those manufactured by their American and European counterparts. Not only are they as good, they also are much cheaper, making them all the more potent in the battle against AIDS in the developing countries of Asia and Africa.
Why then are the Indian drugs not being immediately distributed in the poor countries that need them? The US Federal Drug Administration has yet to put its seal of approval on their use and the United States government prohibits organisation that receive its funds from using drugs that are not FDA-certified. That leaves millions of HIV-patients with no affordable access to treatment. The US government may have a legitimate interest in ensuring that its aid dollars are spent on American companies. But the AIDS problem is so large in scale that America may have to set aside commercial interests in greater interests of humanity. [Update: The New Scientist cites a study published in The Lancet that suggests that even using cheap Indian-made retrovirals will make it difficult to achieve the goal of treating three million people by 2005.]
The religious dogma of the Bush administration has already hampered aid agencies from distributing condoms – another way to check the spread of AIDS.
The global war against AIDS could do with some American support. The restrictions on the distribution of condoms and Indian AIDS drugs must go.
The WHO has judged Triomune and another Indian combination called Triviro, from Ranbaxy Laboratories, to be safe and effective under a scheme that “prequalifies” them for use.
But both products — which use compounds still covered by patents — remain controversial.
Washington has barred groups receiving U.S. government funds from buying them, insisting only drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration be used.
U.S. officials and Western pharmaceutical executives argue health providers are taking a risk by using medicines which have not passed the rigorous standards of the U.S. drugs watchdog.
Worries about the quality of Indian medicines were fueled last month when the WHO removed two Cipla products — though not Triomune — from its prequalification list because they had not been proven to be equivalent to the original products.
Cipla says it is collecting data from new studies which should lead to the drugs being re-instated.
In Cameroon, where drugs are subsidized by the government, the cost of one month’s Triomune is $20, compared to $35 for the equivalent brand name therapy, even after heavy discounting by big pharmaceutical companies.
Elsewhere, cost differences can vary by as much as 100 percent, according to Medecins sans Frontieres. [Reuters]