NAMIBIA: Anti-AIDS drugs to be produced locally
Few African countries have taken advantage of the World Trade Organisation's Doha declaration on generic drugs
johannesburg, 11 June 2003 (IRIN) - HIV-positive Namibians could soon be able to access cheaper anti-AIDS drugs after the government announced plans to support the local manufacture of generic medication in the country.
Speaking during discussions between visiting UN Special Envoy on AIDS, Stephen Lewis, and a group of ministers, Health Minster Dr Libertinah Amathila said cabinet had last week given a local pharmaceutical company the go-ahead to produce antiretroviral (ARV) drugs.
According to a report on the meeting, Lewis said he saw no reason why a plant to manufacture ARV drugs in Namibia should not succeed.
The AIDS Law Unit of the Legal Assistance Centre welcomed the move. "For the many thousands of Namibians who are HIV positive and who, in many cases, already desperately require treatment, this announcement provides hope that Namibia can finally begin to turn the deadly tide of this epidemic," the lobby group said in a statement.
Despite a recent spate of price cuts, the cost of ARVs remained "way out of reach" for most Namibians. "You can expect to pay between 1,600 and 2,500 Namibian dollars (US $203 to $317) a month, depending on the regimen," Michaela Clayton, project coordinator of the AIDS Law Unit, told IRIN.
While generic medication had only recently been obtainable in government medical stores, it was still difficult to determine the extent to which they were broadly available to the public, Clayton pointed out.
Local manufacture of ARVs would make a "huge difference" in access to affordable treatment - not just for Namibia, but for the Southern African region, she noted.
"Producing generics locally is a bold step, and this will serve as an example to other governments," she added. Few African countries have taken advantage of the World Trade Organisation's Doha declaration, which allows developing countries to use generic drugs in times of health crises, overriding the patents held by major pharmaceutical companies.