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Govt backs desi pharma cos despite WHO salvo

Nithya Subramanian

New Delhi , Aug. 6

THE World Health Organisation (WHO) may have dropped the anti-retroviral (ARV) or anti-AIDS drugs manufactured by Ranbaxy and Cipla from its list, but the Indian Government will continue to procure from these companies for the domestic AIDS programme.

Senior officials in the Health Ministry said, "We are confident about the efficacy of Indian drugs. The drugs manufactured by Ranbaxy or Cipla have all been approved by the Drug Controller of India and meet our required standards. We believe that they also follow the global manufacturing processes (GMP) and meet international standards.''

Currently, the WHO is the procurement agency for the Health Ministry's AIDS Control Programme, but ministry officials said that they would insist on Indian drugs being procured. "If the WHO refuses to procure from these companies, we do not mind changing the procurement agency," said the official. The Government had only recently asked the WHO to continue buying for the State-run programme until it found an independent procurement agency.

The Government, meanwhile, is concerned about the backlash against the generic drugs manufactured by Indian companies. Even during the Bangkok AIDS Conference held last month, there were advertisements in local dailies against Indian generic drugs. "We took great pains in explaining our position to the international community. We hope that the companies will be able to provide all clarifications to WHO, and the UN agency will reinstate the drugs shortly," the official added.

The HIV/AIDS programme run by the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) envisaged offering free ARVs to one-lakh patients in the next five years. The campaign took off on April 1, 2004 wherein eight designated hospitals in the six high prevalence States of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Manipur and Nagaland received free ARVs. So far over 900 people have been receiving free ARVs.

The Clinton Foundation was able to ink a deal with companies such as Ranbaxy, Cipla, Hetero and Matrix and is able to provide anti-AIDS drugs at $140 per patient per month to South African and Caribbean countries. However, the Indian Government is still in negotiations with these companies for domestic consumption and till the time it is able to get a suitable price, it was decided that the WHO be the procurement agency.

Combating HIV/AIDS has been on the top of the present United Progressive Alliance's (UPA) Government with the Finance Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, announcing a Rs 259-crore allocation. Besides this, the Global Fund has also agreed to release the fourth tranche of $165 million towards the HIV/AIDS programme in India.

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