AIDS drugs to be manufactured locally within weeks

A Kenyan pharmaceutical company will start manufacturing and selling generic versions of anti-retroviral AIDS (ARVs) medications in the approaching weeks, a move that is expected to make the drugs considerably cheaper for those infected with the HIV virus across the East African region.

An international pharmaceutical firm, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), said on Wednesday it had licensed Cosmos Pharmaceuticals Limited to make ARVs containing Zidovudine and Lamivudine. The medicines will be marketed in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. GlaxoSmithKline holds patents on both drugs.

"The door of access to essential medicines for the people of Kenya and East Africa will now be open," Cosmos Chairman and Managing Director, Prakash Patel, said after signing the agreement in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, with William Mwatu, the medical and regulatory affairs director for GSK's Kenyan subsidiary.

Patel said Cosmos would be able to produce generic versions of
Zidovudine, currently sold by GSK as Retrovir, Lamivudine (Epivir) and the combination of the two drugs known as Combivir within a "couple of weeks".

The locally produced generics would push the monthly cost of treatment down from about US $46 to $33, reports said.

Cosmos will be Africa's second manufacturer of generic-ARV drugs, after the South African company Aspen Pharmacare, which announced a similar move earlier this year.

Kenya's Trade and Industry Minister, Mukhisa Kituyi, who witnessed the signing of the agreement, urged Cosmos to maintain high-quality standards in the manufacturing process. "The quality of the product has to be consistent," the minister said.

Last month, the Kenyan government said it was making plans to provide ARVs to 181,000 people living with HIV/AIDS by 2005. The number of beneficiaries would rise to 250,000 by 2010, the health ministry said.

An estimated 1.5-million Kenyans have died of AIDS since 1984 while the HIV-prevalence rate among people aged 15-49 years is seven percent. In Uganda, the Health ministry estimates that some 120,000 Ugandans are currently in need of ARVs, but only 25,000 get them.