Activists Cheer Treatments Drug Discount
By Tim Rogers
Tico Times Staff
AIDS activists in Central America
this week applauded a recent announcement that CRIXIVAN and
STOCRIN, two of the most widely used antiretroviral medicines for
the treatment of the HIV infection, will now be made available
throughout the isthmus at dramatic new price reductions.
Merck and Co., a leading research-driven
U.S.-based pharmaceutical company that develops and markets the
two "combination" drugs, announced last week the
lowering of its prices by almost 85 percent in Central American
According to Richard Stern,
director of the Costa Rica-based Agua Buena Human Rights
Association, the pharmaceutical company’s announcement
translates into a price of $600 per year for CRIXIVAN in the
countries of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama, and a new
price of $1029 per year in Costa Rica, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
Meanwhile, STOCRIN will now be
offered at $500 per year in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama,
and sold for $920 per year in Costa Rica, El Salvador and
The price differences, according
to Grey Warner, Merck’s vice president for Latin America, are
based on a United Nations index of incidence of AIDS in each
country. The countries which have an incidence of AIDS greater
than 1 percent—as is the case in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and
Panama — receive a discount larger than countries where the
number of incidences is less than 1 percent.
With the announcement of new
discount prices on CRIXIVAN and STOCRIN, Merck will no longer
profit from its drug sales to developing countries.
"Our goal is to spur efforts
to accelerate access to these life-saving medications in those
developing countries where the HIV/AIDS epidemic has taken a
widespread and devastating toll on the lives of those living with
HIV, their families and their communities," said Raymond
Gilmartin, president of Merck.
"The epidemic also places a
heavy burden on health care systems already under severe resource
constraints. Through this action, we hope that more governments
and other purchasers will invest more funding toward
infrastructure and HIV care and treatment."
Although now being hailed as a
victory by regional AIDS activists, when Merck made its original
announcement of price reductions for "the developing world"
on March 7, it extended the offer only to the countries of Sub-Saharan
Africa, excluding the nations of Central America—a region that
earned the company $4 million per year in profits from its drug
Undeterred by the setback,
regional activists, headed by Stern, launched a campaign to
convince Merck to reconsider its offer and include the nations of
Central America on the list of "developing countries"
eligible for the discount prices.
A letter of petition written by
Stern March 26 and signed by 234 activists from around the world
persuaded Merck to give in and offer the same price reductions to
the countries of Central America.
"The result of the petition
was obvious," said Stern. "Merck decided against making
a major stance in Central America against price reductions and, in
fact, acted swiftly to curb any continuing negative publicity."
CRIXIVAN and STOCRIN are
combination antiretroviral agents indicated for the treatment of
HIV infection. CRIXIVAN is one of the most widely used protease
inhibitors worldwide, with some 200,000 people with HIV/AIDS in
more than 80 countries currently using it as part of their regular
"Even at these new lower
prices, the issue of access is not solved," said Per Wold-Olsen,
president of Merck’s human health business in Europe, the Middle
East and Africa. "Antiretroviral therapy will remain out of
reach for millions of people in poor countries where the epidemic’s
ravages are the worst. In the long run, the only sustainable way
to provide care and treatment for the millions of people living
with HIV/AIDS in these settings in through public and private
partnerships to address all of the barriers to care."
While an under-reporting of the
incidents of AIDS in the region makes it difficult to assess the
total number of people who are affected by the plague, Stern
estimates that 90 percent of people living with AIDS in Central
America have "totally inadequate medical care."
Although the number of people
with AIDS is growing throughout the region, authorities estimate
that 60 percent of all Central American AIDS cases are in
Honduras—a country whose population accounts for just 17 percent
of the region’s total.
"I consider this
announcement by Merck to be good news for the region," Stern
said. "What follows are continued efforts to work on
infrastructure and distribution, as well as to pressure other
companies which produce antiretrovirals to make similar discounts."