- The pharmaceutical group Roche has announced that it has signed two agreements with Ethiopia and Zimbabwe enabling "the free transfer of technical know-how that will make possible the [local] production of a generic anti-HIV drug" known as saquinavir. This represents a new step towards wider access to treatments against HIV.
This antiretroviral drug is prescribed as a second line treatment for HIV infection, when patients develop resistance to first-line treatments. The normal cost of these treatments is often in excess of US$ 5,000 (euro 3,700), which places them out of the reach of sufferers in the most countries where HIV/AIDS is widespread.
These agreements between the Swiss pharmaceutical firm and two African laboratories - the Addis Pharmaceutical Factory in Ethiopia and Varichem Pharmaceutical in Zimbabwe - form part of the Roche Technology Transfer Initiative launched in January 2006. Five similar agreements have already been signed between the Swiss laboratory and other companies in Africa.
Archibald Chimuka, director of Varichem Pharmaceutical in Zimbabwe believes that "the advantages of this agreement go beyond the simple production of saquinavir in that they translate into an improvement in the whole of our health system at a technical level and in terms of quality. Without this Roche initiative, our fellow citizens infected by HIV would quite simply not have access to the medicines they so badly need."
At the same time, the European Commission president José Manuel Barroso has announced that the European Union is to release euro 100 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. And a further euro 300 million will be added to this sum over the following three years.
This means that between now and 2010, the European Union is committed to contributing euro 400 million to this financial instrument which plays a driving role in the fight against HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Created in January 2002, the Fund has already played its part in financing almost 400 programmes in 136 countries, particularly in Africa.
Almost 26 million women, men and children are today living with the virus causing AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. They account for 60 percent of the worldwide total, whereas this part of the continent represents only 10 percent of the world population.
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