Activists welcome drug price cut

African AIDS activists have cautiously welcomed GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK) announcement that it will halve the price of its anti-AIDS drugs in poor countries, including all of sub-Saharan Africa.

Under the reduced pricing scheme, the cost of Combivir - a key drug in triple combination therapy - will fall from US $1.70 to US $0.90 per patient per day. This initiative will be made available to governments, NGOs and companies that provide the drugs to their employees.

The company will also cut the price of Epivir from US $0.64 to US $0.35 per person per day and Retrovir from $1.20 to US $0.75 per person daily.

The price reductions were made possible by "continuing improvements to GSK's HIV/AIDS drugs manufacturing process," the company said in a statement.

But activists were sceptical about how this would benefit Africans living with HIV/AIDS.

"Already in Zambia the government has promised about US $4 million for treatment, but the very poor still don't have access. Even treatment for basic opportunistic infections is still out of reach for many," Clement Mufuzi, programme officer for the Zambian Network of People living with HIV/AIDS (NZP+), told PlusNews.

"It [GSK's drug price cut] is good news for those who can afford it ... but the right to life should not be limited to those with money," Mufuzi added.

In Kenya the price for Combivir was still "slightly higher" than the cost of a generic version. "Most people - about two-thirds - are using generic drugs and I don't see many accessing the GSK treatment if they have a cheaper option," Dr Chris Ouma, the national HIV/AIDS coordinator for the British charity ActionAid, noted.

Although the move by the drug manufacturer was a "big step" and "one less hurdle" in the fight for access to treatment, the best position for Africa would be "a home grown solution," he told PlusNews.

Ouma called for African governments to "play their role" by pushing for the local manufacture of ARVs (antiretrovirals) and supporting treatment programmes.

The South African AIDS lobby group, Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), called the price reduction "insufficient". TAC spokesman Nathan Geffen said on Monday the price reduction was not being made available to pharmacies, which was where most patients got their medication.

"Only about 1,000 people get their medication through the public health system. Most people get their medication in the private sector," he was quoted as saying.