Some of the poorest countries in the world will get access to a new, more efficient AIDS pill, which will be a considerably cheaper solution for patients in some of the world’s poorest nations, under a Merck agreement announced on Thursday.
The pill is called Vaxigrip. It will contain a mixture of three components, but the majority of the ingredients will be made in Africa, and the cost will be made up by Zambia, a country with a gross domestic product per capita below $500.
Pablo Bachicha, the global head of clinical development for HIV/AIDS at Merck, said that “advanced AIDS therapies can now help us create a secure future for people living with HIV and a world with zero AIDS related deaths,” as the company said in a statement.
But at present, about 2 million people are taking HIV drugs in poor countries. In Europe, the medication is much cheaper than it is in Africa. The most commonly prescribed is Preotact, which costs about $3,000 per patient, with typical patients taking three courses. By taking Preotact, one would be saving approximately $12,000 per year if it lasted their lifetime. And the new Merck drug will likely cost between $120 and $140 per day — still quite expensive, but a considerable reduction. It is unclear at this point whether the drug will be sold in European or US hospitals, or by pharmacy wholesalers.
On Thursday, the United Nations released a report that estimated that 300,000 more people were infected with HIV in 2017 than in 2016, while the number of infections in children nearly doubled. It said most of the infections occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Merck’s pill will be available for free, Bachicha said, and will be made available to patients who can be reached. It will also be available at no cost, as part of the National AIDS Strategic Plan. The cost of the drug will be reallocated from the National AIDS Strategic Plan, and will also help finance research for a second drug to combat the drug resistance that is rampant in sub-Saharan Africa.
Bachicha said that Merck wanted to help keep AIDS sufferers and health care workers alive, and could see the value in providing these new drugs. He said, “By making new innovative options available to patients and partners, we can accelerate progress to reach the goal of zero AIDS-related deaths and HIV-related illnesses in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” he said in a statement.
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