Allow Indian drug companies to sell cheap AIDS drugs

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]

4 thoughts on “Allow Indian drug companies to sell cheap AIDS drugs”

  1. you wrote:

    “The religious dogma of the Bush administration has already hampered aid agencies from distributing condoms – another way to check the spread of AIDS. ”

    You might want to read

    as well as

    There has been alot made of Bush’s war on condoms yet there is no actual verbage in any of the bills or funds that restrict condom distrabution and the meme is a invention of critics.

    I once did alot of free work for the UN program that does the testing on the condoms that the UN provides. The UN is acutally the largest supplier of condoms in the world apperntly and they do a huge amount of testing on the condoms provide by companies to it. Most of the money for that program is also supplied by the US as well as most of the condoms are donated by US companies.

  2. Robi

    I agree that US companies and individuals are among the biggest philanthropists out there. That’s why I feel it is such an irony that the good money is not well spent. For example, if Indian-made retroviral cocktails allow many more people to be treated for a given dollar, then all efforts must be made to get that thing going.

    Giving a commercial slant onto a humanitarian cause does not do any justice to the billions of dollars Americans donate.

    As for condoms, there could not have been the controversy if not at least an ambiguous stand on condoms. Bush should have shown leadership by coming out unambiguously at the outset, rather than let vested interests speak for what appears to be on his behalf.

  3. The article sited does not mention specifics in policey, vote, or country and it looks alot like claims that have been refuted over and over again. The US has still purchased over 300mil/year of condoms under the current administration which is the same as the last administration. At the same time I agree that any sort of pseudo religious policeies connected to AIDS research, AIDS funds etc are crap and should be removed and not tolerated.

    300mill a year sees a to be diffrent from a Ban.

    As for the the indian retroviral cocktails I agree that cheap treatment would be great. The problem is that the US and US companies absorb the largest burden of R&D dollars for AIDS research and generate most of the AIDS treatments then are expected to release their patent rights and make not money on the drugs. This creates a situation where you have many major companies slowly and not so slowly cutting back on AIDS research and moving the money things like erectial dysfunction research which is a major cash cow. AIDS activists by their insistance that US companies give up IP rights on AIDS drugs have done massive damage to the fight against AIDS>

  4. Robi

    I agree that US companies spend a lot on R&D. Even so, at the price levels they set, very few people in the AIDS-affected countries can afford them. On a demand-supply curve, this is a point where demand is low because price is high. Now, because the potential market is so huge, at the minimum, the drug companies can make the same amount of money by reducing the price such that demand picks up. Drugs are essential commodities, with few substitutes and therefore this scenario is quite likely. The marginal cost of producing the extra quantities is minimal (as you correctly argue, R&D is the major cost item).

    Secondly, nothing prevents the drug companies from pricing differently for different markets.

    The drug companies need not do the work for charity – but for their own self-interest. It is just that they need to play their game using quite a different economics as compared to what they do in the developed world.

    What seems to be happening now is that the drug companies are benefiting from the good intentions of Americans and other donor countries.

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