14 Caribbean governments sign cut-price drugs agreement with six pharmaceutical companies
Graham McKerrow, HIV i-Base
The Pan-Caribbean Partnership of 14 nations signed an agreement in Barcelona with six leading pharmaceutical companies for the supply of cut-price drugs – in a move that is likely to set an example for further regional negotiations.
The Caribbean has 500,000 people with HIV and the highest incidence of the virus after southern Africa.
“This agreement is a catalyst for action,” Dr Denzil Douglas, the prime minister of St Kitts and Nevis, told a press conference in Barcelona. “This is an important initiative and is a regional approach to find solutions for small nations.”
He described it as a “framework” agreement without detailed prices but said: “We will shortly be putting together a task force to work with the pharmaceutical companies.”
Douglas said the agreement is to provide treatment for 15,000 people in the first year, another 25,000 in the second year and a further 35,000 in the third year, making a total of 75,000 of the 80,000 who would need treatment.
Dr James St Catherine, programme manager for health sector development at the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said they expected the companies to supply drugs at about $500 to $800 per patient per year.
“The costs are still too great for some countries like Haiti, Jamaica and Guyana, to name just a few, so we have to work on the possibility of [obtaining] generics,” he said.
Dr Eddie Green, assistant general secretary of CARICOM, said: “Some of the companies have agreed to offer their drugs and diagnostics at the lowest price they offer to the least developed countries of Africa. This is a very significant offer.”
The agreement is with BMS, Hoffmann-La Roche, Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline, Abbott Laboratories and MSD, but they expect other companies and more countries to join the agreement.
The day before the agreement was signed the health economist Prof Stefano Bertozzi had told the conference that collective negotiation by small groups of poor nations or by regions would be the most efficient way to achieve low drug prices and to avoid corruption.
When the Pan-Caribbean Partnership was established last year Dr Peter Piot of UNAIDS, commented: “An intensified response requires additional resources. Clearly the need for resources against HIV and AIDS far outstrips their availability. According to the University of the West Indies, a conservative estimate of the cost of a comprehensive response to the epidemic in the Caribbean would be in the order of $260 million a year, ten times more than the current HIV/AIDS-related international spending in the region.”
The countries and corporations involved in this historic deal are to be congratulated on their framework agreement and they deserve support from the Global Fund, World Bank and bilateral donors to see this agreement produce quick results for the people in the region who need treatment.
However, the companies would do well to remember that money is given to provide essential healthcare, not to make multinationals more profitable. With the introduction of special prices and the production of generic drugs the cost of combination treatment is being reduced in some nations to $300 per person per year and some people are now setting a target of cutting that price to $50. If this agreement can match the lowest prices and set an example for other regional agreements, it will benefit people far from the Caribbean as well as those in whose name it is signed.