Clinton launches low-cost Aids drugs

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November 30, 2006


Sonia Gandhi and Bill Clinton at the launch of the HIV/Aids initiative in New Delhi. Photograph: EPA



At least 100,000 HIV-positive children are to receive low-cost drugs for life ? using money raised by a tax on flying.
The former US president Bill Clinton said today that the new charges on airline tickets, pioneered by France, meant his Clinton Foundation HIV/Aids Initiative had the buying power to negotiate with drug companies for big discounts.

This year the foundation will receive $350m (£179m), most of it from an airline ticket tax France began collecting this summer. The French government charges passengers €4 (£2.7) for every international economy seat they buy and €40 for first-class ones. Britain has backed the initiative, called Unitaid, with $25m, but used traditional aid money rather than charging fliers.

Mr Clinton said he was focusing on children in the developing world because he realised that not much was being done for them. “Only one in 10 children who need [treatment] to live get the drugs. That has to change.”
The foundation has been able to reduce sharply the price of anti-retroviral drugs. Mr Clinton, speaking after a visit to a new ward for children affected by Aids in New Delhi, said two Indian pharmaceutical companies, Cipla and Ranbaxy, have agreed to supply antiretroviral drugs for children at prices as low as 16 cents a day, or $60 annually.

“India should be proud of these companies they are saving countless lives every day,” he said. “We are negotiating for 19 products which are 47% less costly than what is available today.”

India, with 5.7 million HIV-positive people, has the highest number of cases in the world. The new deal would provide HIV treatment for 10,000 children in India alone by March 2007.

Mr Clinton added the new medicines were also easier to store, transport and use than current drugs ? “this will help children everywhere from the Bahamas to Ethiopia.”

Mr Clinton was flanked by India’s most powerful politician, Sonia Gandhi, and the French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, a testament to the networking power that the former president still wields.

Mr Douste-Blazy said that by 2008 Unitaid, which has headquarters in Geneva, will have a budget of $0.5bn. “This is a global issue. We are seeing 1,900 new cases [of children infected with HIV] every day especially in the countries of the south.”

At the last count, India has 202,000 children who are HIV positive, one of the largest concentrations of youth infections in the world. The country has only just woken up to the fact Aids is silently killing off the supposed labour force of the future.

Ms Gandhi, who has made tackling Aids one of her government’s top priorities, admitted that the country had suffered in the past from a “painful paradox” which saw Indian companies supplying Aids treatments everywhere but India.

“That has changed. At the moment 8% of those affected get drugs [in India]. I am confident that momentum will continue,” she said.
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