Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF), an International humanitarian group has criticized the practice of marketing new or improved drugs in the developed countries and less adapted drugs in the Asian, African and Latin American countries , where the need is more felt. More than 60, 000 patients in these regions benefit from the anti-retroviral treatment provided by the concern.
The drug known as ritonavir belongs to a class of compounds referred to as protease inhibitors. The latest version of the drug that is heat stable was launched for sale in the US in November 2005. The drug does not require refrigeration for storage, making it ideal for use in hot climates, prevalent in most developing countries.
The provision of new or improved versions of anti-retroviral drugs to HIV infected people in developing or poorly developed countries can make a huge difference. Despite this fact, a lot of people are denied access to such drugs on account of low affordability.
Although sub-Saharan Africa represents only about 10% of the world's population, more than 60% of people in this region are afflicted with HIV/AIDS. The development of drug resistance to the first line of anti-retroviral poses a significant challenge to management of the AIDS epidemic in these regions. Such patients have to be provided with the drug lopinavir/ritonavir as a second line of treatment.
In line with the above situation, MSF would soon place an order for a heat stable form of the drug, lopinavir. Abbott Laboratories in Chicago currently markets the drug exclusively in the United States at an average wholesale price of 9,687 U.S. dollars.
'With the high temperatures and with the numerous daily electrical blackouts, our patients can't use the old version of this drug. It's a cruel irony that although this drug with no need for refrigeration seems to have been designed for places like Kenya, it is not available here,' said Dr. Christine Genevier, head of mission for MSF's AIDS treatment programs in Kenya.
'But when MSF inquired about the price and availability of this new product for its patients, Abbott responded that it would wait until the product was available in Europe before requesting marketing approval in developing countries. This means a potential delay of years before this drug reaches the people who can benefit from it most,'the MSF said.
Based on the evidence that the new heat stable formulation is associated with a reduced cost of production, the MSF has urged the US based pharmaceutical company to manufacture the drug and market the drug at an optimal price, not exceeding the amount charged for the older version in developing countries.
A letter drafted reflecting the concern of researchers, doctors and AIDS organizations from around the world has been forwarded to the CEO of Abbott Laboratories, urging the immediate supply of cost-effective ritonavir in developing countries.