Friday October 5, 2001

Roche Laments AIDS Drug Delivery



BASEL, Switzerland (AP) - With AIDS drug prices slashed for the poorest countries, the problem now is how to get the vital medicine delivered to people with the disease, the head of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche said Friday.

``We need infrastructure, training ... political will and commitment,'' Roche chief executive Franz Humer told Dow Jones Newswires.

``We're committed to playing a part in fighting AIDS and for that purpose we're supplying our drugs at no profit or free of charge, but I think people understand the issue is no longer price,'' he said.

Pharmaceutical companies have begun to cut prices after coming under fire for charging amounts beyond the reach of most poor countries.

AIDS campaigners also accused the companies of blocking the efforts by some countries to produce generic versions of the drugs, often at much lower prices.

Drugs companies, for their part, have warned that research and development on AIDS and HIV drugs could slow or stop if patent rights are unprotected.

Humer met Thursday with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and officials from six other drugs companies for talks on improving access to AIDS drugs.

Measures discussed included reducing drug prices, improving health services and encouraging private sector involvement, Humer said.

He said the discussions also included encouraging partnership between local government groups, U.N. agencies and the pharmaceutical industry.

Large drug companies are not the only members of the private sector expected to play their part, he said.

``Major employers in afflicted countries should also allocate resources to promote prevention,'' Humer said.

Approximately 36 million people worldwide have HIV, the virus that lead to AIDS, according to the United Nation's AIDS agency, UNAIDS.