Friday October 5, 2001

Annan Renews Push for Lower AIDS Treatment Costs


UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan met with top officials of seven major drug companies on Thursday to renew efforts to bring down the cost of treating AIDS in the world's poorest countries, a spokesman said.

The meeting focused on improving access to AIDS drugs, lowering drug prices, expanding treatment capabilities and encouraging private-sector help in the global fight against AIDS, chief UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

The talks were the latest in a series between Annan and drug company executives on the subject of how to make AIDS therapies more accessible in the world's poorest areas.

The secretary-general has made AIDS a top priority for the world body, focusing on the least-developed nations, particularly those in Africa where infection rates are the world's highest.

Attending the talks for the first time was US drug maker Merck & Co., which had not participated in earlier sessions although it had been invited to do so, UN officials said.

Others attending Thursday's talks were US firms Abbott Laboratories Inc., Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. and Pfizer Inc.; Germany's Boehringer Ingelheim International AG; Britain's GlaxoSmithKline Plc; and Switzerland's Hoffman-LaRoche, a unit of Roche Holding AG.

The meeting was intended to follow up on an April 5 meeting in Amsterdam at which Annan won agreement from six major drug companies to keep cutting prices of AIDS treatments for the world's poorest nations, Eckhard said.

The drug industry has come under intense pressure to improve access to life-saving treatments in poor nations for those infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The epidemic has hit hardest in Africa, where more than 25 million people are infected, according to UN figures. Worldwide, some 36 million people have been infected with HIV.