Clinton Unveils Deal for Cheaper AIDS Drugs

The Clinton Foundation announces a new initiative that will lower the price developing countries have to pay for AIDS drugs. The foundation has been a key force in helping poor countries negotiate with pharmaceutical companies.

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Former President Clinton announced a new AIDS initiative today. His foundation has negotiated agreements to lower the price of two major anti-AIDS drugs for 50 countries. As NPR's Brenda Wilson reports, similar arrangements have contributed to the treatment of a quarter of a million people in poor countries.

BRENDA WILSON reporting:

Since 2003, Mr. Clinton has assisted countries by negotiating with drug manufacturers to purchase their products in bulk. This means that each country doesn't have to bargain with the series of companies, an arrangement that results in economies of scale and predictability of demand. That makes it easier for manufacturers to provide the drugs cheaply. The latest deal negotiated by the Clinton Foundation involves four companies that produce diagnostic tests and five that manufacture generic versions of two major anti-AIDS drugs, abacavir and efavirenz. Mr. Clinton explains that these second-line drugs are especially important as more people in developing countries are treated with anti-AIDS drugs.

Former President BILL CLINTON: While we now have over a million people getting treatment, the so-called first-line treatments, the drugs you initially take, inevitably wear off, and when they do, a patient has to go to second-line treatments to stay alive for the rest of his or her life. These second-line drugs are much, much more expensive. So if we don't get the price of them down as we had the first-line drugs, then either countries will go bankrupt or the donors will go bankrupt or people will stop getting their medicine and they'll die anyway.

WILSON: Five companies in India, China and South Africa have agreed to provide the drugs at a third of what they now cost. A US company is making available rapid HIV tests for about 50 cents, about half of the lowest price. This benefits not only low-income countries but midlevel income countries like Brazil that will be able to double the number of people tested for the virus at a savings of $10 million this year.

Brenda Wilson, NPR News, Washington.

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