The past, present and future of affordable antiretroviral therapy in Africa
Author: Nathan Ford
In 2002, the Zambian government took an important decision to provide low cost, antiretroviral triple therapy (ART) to respond to the high burden of disease caused by HIV/AIDS: around one in six of the country’s 10.2 million population were HIV positive. To reduce the cost of treatment, the government announced that it would import generic versions of ART from India. At the time there was considerable debate, much of it driven by vested interests, around the safety, efficacy and legality of generic antiretroviral drugs. But with proprietary triple therapy at the time costing more than three times the generic equivalent, the government pressed ahead, noting that they would collect comparative safety and efficacy data....
Ten years ago the high cost of ART meant that HIV/AIDS was a disease that was either treatable or untreatable, depending on whether you lived in the Western world or in Africa. For people failing treatment, there is a risk of returning to this inequitable situation. This will only be avoided by the kind of decisive political action exemplified by Zambia back in 2002 that put the provision of life-saving ART above the intellectual property interests of pharmaceutical companies.