The Clinton Foundation announced on Thursday that it will be supplied with medication by three pharmaceutical companies in India and one in South Africa.

 

The three Indian companies are Cipla in Mumbai, Ranbaxy Laboratories in New Delhi and Hyderabad's Matrix Laboratories. The fourth supplier is South Africa's Aspen Pharmacare Holdings.

 

In terms of the deal, the drugs manufacturers will supply AIDS antiretroviral (ATV) drugs at about half the cost in India and at a fraction of what the same cocktail would cost in the West.

 

For example, one of the commonly used triple-drug therapy combinations will be available for less than $140 per person per year, while it costs nearly a dollar a day or about $365 a year, even in developing countries such as India. The same combination used to cost upward of $10,000 per year in the United States although the prices have been falling.

 

Breakthrough

 

"I applaud these manufacturers for doing the right thing," Clinton said while announcing the pricing deal at his Harlem office in New York after several months of talks. "It represents a big breakthrough in our efforts to begin treatment programmes in places where, until now, there has been virtually no medicine and, therefore, no hope."

 

The full value of the agreement has not been revealed, but the foundation hopes to supply about two million people with the drugs by 2008.

 

Most of the foundation's work is centred round the African countries of South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania and Rwanda, which together have about 33% of all people living with AIDS in Africa, and nine Caribbean nations.

 

Mbeki relents

 

At least one of the countries, South Africa, was initially opposed to the use of ARV drugs, with opposition coming from President Thabo Mbeki himself, on the grounds that the AIDS threat was exaggerated. But he changed his mind as the killer infection began to decimate the country's working population.

 

Western drug companies do not share Clinton's view of the drugs suppliers, accusing the Indian firms of copying their products. Many of them have been campaigning quietly against generic drug firms, including raising the question of quality.

 

The Indian ARVs have, however, been assessed to meet international quality standards by the World Health Organisation and the Medicines Control Council of South Africa.