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Could New Deal Be A Huge Step In The Global Fight Against HIV/AIDS In Children?
February 28, 2013
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9-year-old HIV patient is given medicine at a school in Nepal

In the fight against HIV/AIDS, activists have long talked about the need for generic drugs to treat people around the world.

Their case was simple: generic drugs are cheaper than branded drugs, making them more affordable in developing countries.

And if they're more affordable, you can treat more people and save more lives.

As Canada's Stephen Lewis, the former UN Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa, has said "...we wouldn't have this extraordinary run of treatment in Africa now if it weren't for the generic drugs."

Over the past ten years, the generic drug industry has grown - forcing big pharmaceutical companies to lower the price of their AIDS drugs.

As the organization AVERTing HIV and AIDS writes...

"This competition, coupled with pressure from activists, organisations - such as the Clinton Foundation - and governments of poor countries with severe AIDS epidemics, dramatically reduced the price of ARVs for developing countries."

Well now, there's another important development. One that Mark Leon Goldberg of UN Dispatch is calling a potentially "huge step toward the promise of an AIDS-Free generation within our lifetime."

Three major pharmaceutical companies have agreed to let generic versions of their drugs be made and then sold at a low cost in 118 countries.

The companies are collectively called ViiV Healthcare - which is a partnership between GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Shionogi.

They signed the agreement with Medicines Patent Pool - a health organization launched in 2010 by UNITAID (which is backed by the UN and the World Health Organization).

According to Medicines Patent Pool, the countries covered under the deal make up nearly all the cases of children living with HIV - more than 98 %.

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3-year-old girl with HIV at an orphanage in Kenya

Right now, there are 3.4 million children with HIV worldwide - most of them in Africa. But just 550,000 have access to the right kind of drugs, according to the World Health Organization.

This deal involves a drug called abacavir, which is specifically made for children and has been found to improve the immune system when it's taken with other drugs.

As part of the agreement, other companies anywhere in the world will be eligible to take the licence to make abacavir, and sell it in the 118 countries.

In return, the big pharmaceutical companies - GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Shionogi - will receive royalty fees.

So, they still make a profit but a lot smaller than what they'd make from branded drugs.

"The Medicines Patent Pool is a win-win-win solution," said Greg Perry, the Executive Director of Medicines Patent Pool.

"It provides an innovative new business model for the pharmaceutical industry to contribute to global health... and most importantly allows people living with HIV around the world timely access to life-saving treatments."

Philippe Douste-Blazy is the chair of the Executive Board of UNITAID.

He said "We applaud this agreement, and call on other companies to quickly join the Pool in order to expand access to medicines for all people living with HIV in developing countries."

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HIV positive children have lunch at a centre for HIV/AIDS patients in Vietnam

The Medicines Patent Pool and ViiV Healthcare have also agreed to negotiate more deals related to new HIV/AIDS drugs in development.

The plan is for ViiV to allow generic versions of new drugs to be manufactured and sold at a low cost in those same 118 countries.

One new drug is called Dolutegravir. It's currently under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is thought to be better for children than existing drugs.

They also agreed to talk about expanding these type of agreements beyond the 118 countries - a point raised by Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières.

In a statement, Aziz ur Rehman, the intellectual property advisor to the MSF Access Campaign, said:

"While it's encouraging to see ViiV taking steps towards greater collaboration on access to pediatric formulations, the real breakthrough we're looking for is an agreement to make the company's promising new drug dolutegravir available to both adults and children in all developing countries."

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Hope For A Cure? Scientists Issue A Research Road Map For HIV/AIDS

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