Newer drugs are priced out of reach

More affordable medicines means more people can be put on treatment. But today, many of the newer medicines used to treat HIV are priced out of reach of those in need.
A growing need for newer HIV/AIDS medicines
Because there’s no cure for HIV/AIDS, treatment is life-long.  This means people require constant access to newer and more potent medicines when they develop side effects or as the virus grows resistant to medicines. 
Resistance is an inevitable element of long-term treatment, and with growing numbers of people on AIDS treatment for several years now, the need for newer drugs is growing fast – half a million people are expected to need to be switched to a ‘second-line’ of medicines by 2012.  Patients on treatment in some of MSF’s longest-running HIV projects, including in South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya and Cameroon are experiencing treatment failure. 
But newer drugs required for second-line treatment are much more expensive than the first generation of antiretrovirals (ARVs).
The impact of generic competition on the price of HIV medicines
Competition among multiple manufacturers in countries that produce generics, like India, Thailand and Brazil, is what led to the dramatic drop in prices for the first generation of ARVs.  In 2000, it cost over US$ 10,000 to treat one person for one year.  The same drugs now cost 99% less – around $60.   This was all possible because these medicines were not patented in those countries, allowing producers to freely compete for the market and drive prices down.
India in particular has often been dubbed ‘the pharmacy of the developing world’.  80% of the AIDS medicines bought by donors for HIV/AIDS treatment in developing countries come from India, just as 80% of the ARVs MSF uses in its HIV/AIDS treatment programmes are purchased from manufacturers in India.
Newer AIDS drugs are unaffordable
But India, Brazil and Thailand have had to begin patenting medicines to comply with international trade rules.  This has meant that newer ARVs have been granted patents that allow ‘originator’ companies to charge high prices in the absence of price-busting competition. 
The most affordable second-line regimen available today costs roughly $400 per year, almost three times as much as the first-line regimen recommended by the World Health Organization.  Further treatment options for people failing treatment can cost around $3,200 per year.
Overcoming high prices for HIV medicines
In a world where newer medicines are increasingly being patented, governments will have to exercise their rights to override patents in the name of public health and allow for production of more affordable generics.  Further, an innovative new mechanism called the Medicines Patent Pool can help overcome patent barriers that stand in the way of access to affordable versions of newer medicines. 
Last updated: July 2011
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