Guatemala/Geneva - On the occasion of the board meeting of the Global Fund to Fight against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, in Guatemala City, the international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is calling for increased efforts from the government of Guatemala and the Global Fund to maintain treatment of patients living with HIV/AIDS.
In addition, MSF is calling to expand coverage to those not currently under treatment in Guatemala, where an estimated 60 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS requiring treatment do not receive it, according to UNAIDS.
MSF has treated more than 2,000 HIV/AIDS patients in Guatemala since 2001. Treatment responsibility for the current cohort of more than 1,250 people will be progressively transferred to the Guatemalan health authorities throughout 2007.
This transfer is a positive indication of national capability to treat HIV/AIDS. However, broader and sustainable treatment of patients still present challenges for both Guatemala and the Global Fund. Since the Global Fund only provides finances for new patients, the government of Guatemala must commit to allocate adequate resources, human and financial, to cater to existing patients.
For its part, the Global Fund should move forward to guarantee that the most effective drugs are purchased at the best price.
"The Global Fund must play a larger role by better using its financial leverage to lower drug prices, and put a greater number of people on treatment in the coming years", said Ginette Pilate, head of mission for MSF in Guatemala. "The high price paid by Guatemala for second-line anti-retroviral drugs is a major obstacle to the maintenance and expansion of treatment. Unfortunately, the case of Guatemala is a practical example of a greater problem of pricing of crucial second-line treatment in middle income countries worldwide."
For example, lopinavir/ritonavir (marketed as "Kaletra"), a second-line anti-retroviral drug that is recommended by the World Health Organization and produced by the American pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories, is out of reach in Guatemala as in other middle-income countries worldwide.
Since June 2006, Abbott charges $500 per patient per year for the new version of Lopinavir/Ritonavir for least-developed countries, such as Malawi and Cameroon. But in middle income countries like Guatemala, Honduras, or Peru, health authorities must pay $2,200 per patient per year.
The Global Fund should encourage Guatemala and other middle-income countries to take advantage of World Trade Organization mechanisms, as defined in the 2001 Doha Declaration, to purchase the most effective medicines at the best prices.
MSF has been working in Guatemala since 1982. MSF provides antiretroviral treatment to more than 60,000 patients spread across 65 projects in 32 countries, including to over 4,000 children. MSF has been caring for people living with HIV/AIDS in developing countries since the mid 1990s, and first began providing antiretroviral treatment in 2000.