Action needed to lower prices of antiretroviral treatment in Commonwealth of Independent States region

From 24-25 February, the Commonwealth of Independent Sates (CIS) held a meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan to call for improved access to treatment for people living with HIV. A range of international organisations attended the meeting and urged governments in CIS countries to lower prices for antiretroviral drugs.

The meeting was called in response to the exceptionally high prices paid for antiretroviral treatment by CIS countries, currently amongst the highest in the world and in some cases far exceeding those paid in the more affluent countries of the European Union. “Antiretroviral drugs are available in the CIS, but out of reach for the majority of those in need”, says Qalib Aliev, Director of the National AIDS Centre in Azerbaijan.

With the epidemic expanding at an alarming rate throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia, there is a serious threat of a heavy death toll and a massive burden on the already strained health care systems in the coming years. Currently, there are more than 1.4 million people living with HIV in the region.

In the European Union, where over 600,000 people are living with HIV, the picture is different. “The wide availability of antiretroviral drugs in neighbouring European Union countries has caused a dramatic drop in AIDS mortality, and a significant improvement in the quality of life of people living with HIV and AIDS,” said Henning Mikkelsen, Regional Coordinator for Europe of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

During the meeting, representatives of national AIDS programmes, drug procurement services along with people living with HIV from ten CIS countries agreed on joint action to ensure universal access to quality antiretroviral drugs at affordable prices. A resolution defining specific actions for price reductions will be submitted for consideration to the CIS heads of government. Participants agreed to pursue a set of strategies, including joint negotiation with pharmaceutical companies, generic drugs competition, domestic production, exemption from tax and duties and bulk purchasing.

“This is a problem with a solution if the political will is there,” said Kees de Joncheere, Regional Adviser Health Technology and Pharmaceuticals of the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe, who encouraged countries to act fast and collaborate in lowering prices.

With the price barrier removed, action can be accelerated to address other impediments for access to care and treatment for people living with HIV in the region, such as scaling up capacity in the health care system, tackling stigma, and ensuring access to all people in need, including those in rural areas and in prisons. Equally important, better access to care and treatment should go hand in hand with intensified efforts to prevent new HIV infections.

The meeting was organized by the CIS Coordinating Council on HIV/AIDS and the CIS Executive Council with support from UNAIDS and the WHO headquarters and Regional Office for Europe. Also attending the meeting was a range of international organizations, including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, the Clinton Foundation, the Global Network of People living with HIV/AIDS (GNP+), UNICEF, the International Dispensary Association (IDA), AIDS Foundation East-West, Open Health Institute and the International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

For more information and interviews, journalists may contact:
Nina Sautenkova and Kees de Joncheere, WHO EURO (Tel: +45 39 171432)
Peter Graaff, WHO Geneva (Tel: +41 22 791 4228)
Henning Mikkelsen, UNAIDS Geneva, (Tel: +41 22 791 3934)