Activists lobby for cheaper HIV/AIDS drugs

Delegates at a conference on HIV/AIDS in Africa's Great Lakes region are exploring ways in which people living with the disease could gain greater access to affordable anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs. The conference, the second of its kind in the Great Lakes, brings together delegates from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, as well as representatives of the World Bank, UNAIDS, NGOs and the UK-based Community Health and Information Network. In a speech during the opening of the three-day conference on Tuesday, Rwandan Health Minister Abel Dushimimana said only 1 percent of Africa's people living with aids had access to ARV drugs. He called on the delegates to propose cost-cutting measures and ways of increasing access to ARVs for people living with HIV/AIDS. "We seek to build a consensus among all stakeholders on how to expand access to antiretrovirals and treatment education for AIDS patients in the Great Lakes Region," Eugene Rurangwa, executive secretary of the Great Lakes Initiative on AIDS, told PlusNews. The lobbying for cheaper ARVs was directed at donors, pharmaceutical companies, national drug stores and health professionals. Participants urged multinational pharmaceutical firms against taking advantage of the spread of HIV/AIDS to make huge profits from ARVs. On average, the price of ARVs in the Great Lakes region lies between US $30 and $60, according to health sources. An estimated 40 million people worldwide are HIV-positive, 70 percent of them living in sub-Saharan Africa. The Great Lakes region is one of the worst hit in sub-Saharan Africa. The rate of infection in the six countries in the region is estimated at between 5 percent and 15 percent. Delegates shared information and expertise on successful pilot HIV treatment initiatives, and proposed strategies on how to strengthen capacity and mobilise necessary resources. Rurangwa said the recommendations to be made by the conference would help develop standard guidelines on bulk procurements and distribution of ARVs, and on the creation of a network for national medical stores in the region. The UN Development Programme resident representative to Rwanda, Macharia Kamau, urged the countries in the region to source the right combinations, quantities and qualities of ARV drugs. He criticised some countries that he said had failed to manage the distribution of the ARVs, even when their economies were doing well.