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Pharmaceutical Roche plans to slash costs of AIDS drugs

The Swiss pharmaceuticals giant, Roche, along with four other leading drugs companies, has agreed to sharply reduce prices of AIDS drugs for the developing world.

The companies are negotiating the scheme as part of a United Nations initiative to respond to the AIDS crisis in Africa.

The deal would be a major move towards making the drugs affordable for millions of people at prices lower than in the West and even beneath those now available at reduced rates to African nations.

Roche has said it would also offer free logistics support under the plan. "Under the United Nations initiative, we have agreed to offer Roche AIDS drugs cheaper and also provide services and logistics support to developing countries," said Roche spokeswoman, Jacqueline Wallach.

"We are going to be giving our know-how and support" to ensure that the drugs "reach the people who need the medication and that they can use it properly," Wallach told Swissinfo.

She said negotiations on the initiative would continue over the next month and that Roche could not say by how much prices of AIDS drugs would be reduced.

"If the negotiations suceed, AIDS drugs prices may come significantly lower," Wallach said. "Exactly by how much the prices will be reduced and by when is subject to negotiations," she added, saying these could take "weeks or months".

The agreement to finalise such an initiative was a result of negotiations with UNAIDS, the UN's co-ordinating agency to combat the disease, along with the heads of three other UN agencies: the World Health Organisation, the UN Children's Fund, and the UN Population Fund.

"The initiative goes back to UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan's plea last year where he asked all stakeholders to work together" to fight AIDS, Wallach said. "Roche is a responsible member of the global community and we have a commitment to HIV and AIDS as it is one of our main areas of research."

AIDS is now the leading killer in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 23.3 million people have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The UN says two-thirds of the world's HIV positive can be found in this region. In some countries, as many as one in every four people are thought to have the HIV virus, many of them below the age of 25.

In 1999, the UN General Assembly set a target to reduce new infections by 25 per cent in 15-24 year-olds in the most affected countries by 2005. This month, the United States declared AIDS a national security matter.

The UNAIDS head, Peter Pilot, welcomed the moves as "a promising step in a long-term process." He added that "we need significant new funding that is on a level with the enormous human, social and economic challenges now being imposed by the epidemic."

swissinfo with agencies

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