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Drug price protest at AIDS summit

Drug price protest at AIDS summit

BARCELONA, Spain -- Protesters demanding cheaper drugs for HIV/AIDS sufferers have turned their anger on an international conference.

They accused wealthy countries and drug firms of not doing enough to help sufferers, many of whom often live in poorer countries.

The call was made on Wednesday at the 14th International AIDS Conference, being held in Barcelona, Spain.

During the protest, the European Commission stand was vandalised as protesters demanded the European Union contribute more to the U.N.'s Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

They spray-painted "Shame" on the counter, scattered leaflets on the floor, and plastered the booth with stickers saying "Where is the $10 billion?" -- a reference to the shortfall in contributions to the fund.

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In a third day of protests at the conference, a stand operated by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline was also targeted. On Monday, protesters briefly occupied the stand of the Roche drug company.

Zackie Achmat, of South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign, was too ill to attend the conference but, in a video address, he said that despite price cuts the drugs that have drastically reduced deaths from AIDS in wealthy countries were still too expensive for people in developing countries.

"What is required is generic competition, therefore we appeal to all the brand name drug companies to issue non-restrictive voluntary licenses," Achmat said.

"This will eliminate the unnecessary conflict between the activist community, governments and drug companies."

He said that without antiretroviral drugs or a breakthrough in prevention the cumulative deaths from AIDS in South Africa could reach 4.5 million by 2010.

"Just because we are poor, just because we are black, just because we live in environments and continents that are far from you, does not mean that our lives should be valued any less," he said.

Achmat acknowledged the importance of prevention but said it was short-sighted not to treat HIV. "What we are speaking of are not cold statistics but our lives," he said.

Access to life-saving antiretroviral therapy in developing countries has dominated the Barcelona conference.

Protesters, angered by slow progress in tackling the epidemic, have jeered ministers and damaged drug company exhibits at the meeting.

British charity Oxfam issued research on Uganda showing it was only the arrival of generic competition from India's Cipla that had brought down the cost of AIDS medicines.

Five Western drug firms pledged price cuts in May 2000 but prices did not start falling until the arrival of copycat Indian drugs in October 2000.

Since then, prices in Uganda have fallen by as much as 97 percent, said Oxfam policy adviser Mohga Smith.

The World Health Organization has been among pressure groups pushing for price reductions by the pharmaceutical industry of combination drugs. WHO says $10 billion is needed annually to fight AIDS -- nearly three times the current spending.

More than 20 million people have died from AIDS in the last two decades and the United Nations AIDS agency, UNAIDS, says 70 million more could perish in the next 20 years.

Africa bears the greatest share of HIV infections to date, but experts fear Asia could soon overtake it as the continent hardest hit.

In a bid to please AIDS campaigners, Brazil offered on Monday to share its cheaper, generic AIDS drugs and technology to make them with 10 of the poorest countries.



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