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Cheaper Aids Medicine For Pacific Islanders

Cheaper Aids Medicine For Pacific Islanders Addresses Part Of Complex Challenge

GlaxoSmithKine New Zealand says some Pacific Island nations are eligible for the new low, not-for-profit price of its leading HIV/AIDs medicine Combivir.

Last week, the company announced it had reduced the price of Combivir to US90cents a day for 63 of the world's poorest countries.

GSK New Zealand managing director Lisa Bright has confirmed that these include Tonga, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu.

Ms Bright said access to the not-for-profit price has also been opened up to a further six Pacific Island countries who are the successful recipients of an international healthcare grant from the World Health Organisation's Global Fund to fight HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. The South Pacific Commission, which successfully lobbied for the grant, represents a coalition of the Cook Islands, Samoa, Fiji, Niue, the Federations of Micronesia, and Palau.

Improving therapies over the past 20 years has seen HIV/AIDs progress from being a fatal disease to a chronic illness managed through combination drug therapy. Now, Ms Bright said, an even bigger challenge is the delivery of medicines to the 90 per cent of HIV-infected people in developing nations who do not have access to treatment.

GSK has been working for the past few years with the UK-based Global Fund and other international health purchase funds to help achieve this. Mr Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund, said that continued price discounts are an important contribution from GSK. "However this must be matched by increased resources to finance the purchase of medications (in developing nations), as well as commitments by the public and civil society partners at the local level to ensure their effective delivery".

GSK New Zealand Medical Director Dr Ian Griffiths said a lack of infrastructure throughout the Pacific still posed significant barriers to the delivery of improved HIV healthcare.

"The medical facilities that are available do very little HIV testing, which means it is difficult to identify those with HIV," said Dr Griffiths. "Blood samples sometimes have to be flown to New Zealand or Australia, which has a high cost. There is also a need for culturally appropriate diagnostic and treatment programmes."

Dr Griffiths said there are about 820 reported cases of HIV in the western and southern Pacific, but experience indicated the true number was probably much higher. Most of the cases that have been identified - 600 - are in the more developed Pacific Island nations, which are not eligible for the low Combivir price.

Ms Bright said GSK will now be approaching the health authorities in the eligible Pacific Island nations to discuss supply agreements to treat HIV patients.

"We want to work alongside healthcare providers in the Pacific to tackle the complex challenge of improved HIV/AIDs treatment and find solutions that ensure people with HIV get our medicines." The ex-manufacturer price for Combivir in New Zealand is $667.20 per month.

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