The Swiss pharmaceutical giant, Novartis, says it is prepared to sell a new anti-malaria drug "at cost" in Africa. The announcement comes as the drug industry faces mounting pressure to cut the prices of life-saving drugs to poor countries.
Novartis said the drug, Coartem, which is sold for $40 to $50 per course of treatment in western countries, would be traded in African nations at no profit. Malaria is particularly prevalent in the sub-Saharan region.
The company said it would make Coartem available in Africa for around $2.50 per adult and $1.50 per child. Novartis declined to comment on the scale of the price cut.
Commenting on the company's decision, the World Health Organisation said Coartem was an important weapon in the fight against malaria since the parasite was developing resistance to older treatments.
It added though that even at "cost", the drug would remain too expensive for many. "The current anti-malarial drugs cost between 10 and 20 [US] cents per treatment and the sad fact is that those treatments do not get to all that need them even at those prices," said WHO spokesman, David Alnwick.
He said the long-term solution lay in finding ways to subsidise treatment. "I think we are all going to have to find ways of subsidising the price or helping to underwrite the cost of the drug in order to get effective anti-malarial treatments to people that need them."
The drug industry has been under considerable pressure in the past few months over the cost of drugs in developing countries. The price of Aids treatments in particular has been widely criticised.
Major pharmaceutical companies were recently the targets of protests for attempting to block a South African law that would open the door for cheaper drugs. The industry dropped its case last month.
swissinfo with agencies
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