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Friday, May 27, 2005

Clinton Urges U.S. on Generic AIDS Drugs

Associated Press:


Former President Clinton urged the United States on Thursday to show more flexibility in allowing money pledged for AIDS prevention to be used for low-cost generic drugs, and he criticized U.S. pharmaceutical companies for pressuring the government to restrict use of those funds.

Clinton also said donor nations must provide more funds to scale up the global fight against the epidemic.

Although the United States has pledged more money to fight AIDS than any other nation, its policies often forbid using those funds to purchase low-cost generic drugs from companies in India and Brazil. This has slowed efforts to fight the epidemic in poor countries, where some 6.2 million AIDS patients cannot afford expensive drugs patented by western firms.

"We need greater flexibility in the money that the U.S. has appropriated," Clinton told a meeting of business leaders in New Delhi. "American companies have been too harsh" in lobbying the U.S. government to restrict the use of those funds.

Clinton, who has made the battle against AIDS a focus of his post-presidential life, said he had recently discussed the issue with President Bush.

Clinton, who was recently named U.N. special envoy for tsunami recovery, was visiting India as part of a tour of the region devastated by the Dec. 26 disaster.

He was responding to questions on how the world can ensure universal access to medicines to fight AIDS.

Clinton said the number of AIDS patients receiving treatment in the developing world has jumped to 700,000 from 200,000 three years ago, largely because of the availability of low-cost generic drugs from India and Brazil. Clinton's foundation has been supplying such medicines to victims in Africa and elsewhere.

He also acknowledged that India's new patent law, which prevents companies here from copying any new lines of drugs from Western companies, could hurt efforts to expedite universal access to AIDS medicines.

When asked if he could intervene to persuade American drug manufacturers to grant licenses to Indian companies to make generic equivalents he said: "I will do the very best I can."

With 5.13 million cases, India is second only to South Africa in terms of the number of people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Many fear ignorance and the stigma attached to the disease could push India into the top slot over the next few years.

Clinton praised India for its battle against AIDS, but warned the country it cannot afford to slack off in its efforts.

"You will move from being the world's number one worry to being the number one model if you follow through the plans you have," he said.

While pharmaceutical companies in India have helped save many lives by supplying low-cost AIDS drugs to the world, many Indians remain deprived of access to such medicines because of a poor health infrastructure, Clinton said.

He announced his Clinton Foundation will help India train 150,000 doctors over the next year to treat patients with AIDS.

The Indian government claims its anti-AIDS campaign has been successful in stabilizing the epidemic and that there has been a sharp decline in the number of new HIV cases. Only 28,000 new cases of HIV infections were reported in India in 2004, compared with 520,000 in 2003, according to data released Thursday by the National AIDS Control Organization.

Clinton said he saw two main barriers to the global fight against AIDS: the non-availability of affordable medicines and the shortage of trained professionals to treat patients.

He said donor nations must give more money to the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to help poor countries cope with the diseases.

According to Global Fund Web site, it needs contributions to increase from the current levels of about $6 billion per year to $27 billion by 2007 and $38 billion by 2015.

"We need countries to give more money," Clinton said.

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