MSF queries Pharma motives on AIDS in the Asia Pacific

September 25, 2002 - The international medical aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has criticised the pharmaceutical industry's use of a human development forum on access to HIV treatment as a tool to push for increased markets in the Asia Pacific. The warning comes after a roundtable of key players in HIV treatment in the Asia Pacific, including community organisations, NGOs, academics, government officials and industry representatives, concluded in Canberra on September 24. The brand-name pharmaceutical industry initiated and provided significant funding to the conference, which also received support from the Australian government. "The Roundtable's official outcomes have been overwhelmingly positive, especially in connecting people living with HIV/AIDS, treatment advocates and academics as well as placing such a high importance on access to HIV treatment for people in developing countries," said Kathryn Dinh of MSF, the Australian Director of its Access to Essential Medicines campaign. "But what is of concern to MSF is that the proprietary pharmaceutical industry seems to have approached this Roundtable with the unofficial agenda of increasing its market share in the region, especially in Papua New Guinea. If the industry's current public-private partnership model is followed, drug prices will likely remain much higher than those of generic manufacturers and far fewer people will have access to treatment." Of particular concern to MSF is the case of Papua New Guinea. Pharmaceutical companies have been engaging in heavy lobbying of PNG authorities for the supply of ARVs for almost a year and sought a mandate from Roundtable participants for their move into PNG. "Unfortunately the brand-name pharmaceutical industry continues to offer their drugs at prices up to 97 percent higher than the generic equivalents. For countries which simply cannot afford to pay, drug donation programs do play a short-term role but are also creating future markets - the pharmaceutical industry have not become global altruists overnight." "It is of great concern to us that the pharmaceutical industry used a forum of objective discussion on HIV treatment as a tool to promote and legitimise their commercial interests," said Dinh. "It is far more effective to focus on establishing affordable and sustainable drug supplies for HIV, such as those offered by generic manufacturers, rather than being at the whim of short-term pharmaceutical company offers. Sourcing affordable drugs is critical to ensure that the maximum number of people have long-term access to HIV treatment."