PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad - A deal with drug makers to provide cheaper HIV/AIDS drugs in Caribbean countries
promises a significant boost for treatment of patients with the virus,
health officials said Friday.
Caribbean leaders sealed the accord with six pharmaceutical companies at
an AIDS conference in Barcelona, Spain, on Wednesday, clearing the way for
cheaper anti-retroviral drugs, officials said.
"The increased availability of the anti-retrovirals will mean many more
people will be inclined to come forward early and be tested, as there is
now hope that medication will be available and they don't have to get
sick," said Catherine Williams, of Trinidad's Community Action Resource
Center, which assists patients with the virus.
Officials said prices for the drugs in the Caribbean could now be up to 90
percent lower than previous rates.
The Caribbean has the world's second highest infection rate after
sub-Saharan Africa and, like that region, as many women are infected as
men. An estimated 2 percent of people, or about 500,000, are HIV-positive,
according to a regional task force on AIDS. The statistics exclude Cuba,
where rigorous isolation and prevention have kept infection rates low.
The six companies committing to lower prices include GlaxoSmithKline of
Britain, Hoffmann-La Roche AG of Switzerland, Boehringer Ingelheim of
Germany and the U.S. firms Bristol-Myers Squibb Co, Merck & Co. and Abbott
Laboratories, Caribbean officials said.
Abbott noted in a statement that similar accords have been reached with
African countries, and said the efforts "reflect the ongoing commitment of
individual companies to work with governments to expand access to HIV
The company said its position "is to ensure access to our HIV products to
as many people as possible in a manner that is responsible and
Dr. Bilali Camara, a technical medical adviser to the group that
negotiated the deal for the Caribbean, said he was disappointed that the
price cuts were calculated based on the ability to pay in Jamaica instead
of in poorer countries such as Guyana and Haiti.
"If Guyana and Haiti were used as the baseline models, it would have meant
a 95 to 97 percent reduction similar to that being enjoyed by Uganda,"
Nevertheless, Camara applauded the effort by Caribbean leaders to secure
He said the lower-priced anti-retroviral drugs should available by June of
2003. The governments of Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago already
had struck bilateral agreements with drug makers.
But Trinidad's chief medical officer, Dr. Rawle Edwards, said that if the
Caribbean-wide deal is better, "we will jump on the bandwagon."
Camara said regional health officials will establish centers in Trinidad,
the Bahamas, Jamaica and Barbados to train medical staff to counsel those
taking the drugs.
One Trinidadian patient with the virus said she was glad to hear of the
promise of cheaper drugs.
"Things are so bad for us now," said a woman, who spoke on condition of
anonymity. "So I guess I am happy to hear that we will get drugs."