Doctors Without Borders: AIDS Drug Discounts Threatened

Jul 21, 2011

According to a price report by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, or Doctors Without Borders) released July 18, 2011, several pharmaceutical companies have withdrawn drug price reductions in middle-income countries, such as India, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Ukraine, Colombia and Brazil.

“While there is continued progress to reduce prices for the poorest countries, a significant number of people with HIV/AIDS live in countries that are now excluded from price reductions,” said Nathan Ford, medical director of MSF’s Campaign for Access to Affordable Medicines, according to a press statement.

MSF started HIV treatments in Asia and Latin America over ten years ago, but handed responsibility over to local authorities on the assumption that people would gain access to treatment from government programmes. However, the drug company discount programmes do not apply to newer drugs. According to Janice Lee, HIV/AIDS pharmacist at MSF’s Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines, “When patents get in the way and drug companies refuse to cut prices, governments are going to have to start overriding patents so that they can afford to keep their HIV-positive people alive.”

The MSF price report also contains good news: once a day formulations containing tenofir have seen a 70% reduction in price due to generic competition allowing a move to a WHO-recommended, less toxic treatment.

Nevertheless, patents continue to be a barrier to reduced pricing across the board, and that could hinder the UN goal of providing universal access to antiretroviral therapy to all people living with HIV who are eligible for treatment.