Technology from India makes AIDS drugs in Uganda

May 28th, 2008 - 4:44 pm ICT by admin  

By Patralekha Chatterjee
Geneva, May 28 (IANS) Technology transfer from Indian generic drug manufacturer Cipla to an Ugandan partner is jumpstarting the local manufacture of key antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to combat HIV/AIDS in that country. “It also points to an emerging model of South-South cooperation,” Ugandan Vice President Gilbert Bukenya said at an international conference on public health here.

“In the next three or four months, Uganda will be producing ARV drugs using technology from India,” Bukenya said. “Once production reaches a critical level, we will be able to bring down prices of these vital medicines dramatically.

“The cost of providing one person a monthly supply of ARVs could come down to as low as $10. This is the way we should conduct the South to South dialogue in the future,” Bukenya told journalists attending the Geneva Health Forum on Global Access to Health.

Bukenya, a medical doctor by training, said there were 290,000 people living with HIV and AIDS in his country, out of a population of over 26 million.

Providing them treatment with “imported branded drugs” was not only a drain on the national government but also exposed Uganda to the risk of supply disruption “if donors decided to stop supplies in case of political differences”, he pointed out.

Uganda, one of the first countries in sub-Saharan Africa to experience the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS and to take action to control the epidemic, is a rare success story in a region that has been ravaged by the epidemic. It has managed to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS and to have actually reduced the percentage of population affected.

But it has been an expensive process, Bukenya pointed out. “Earlier, we were buying expensive branded drugs. Then, India and China offered us generic drugs. But we were still importing drugs.

“I travelled to India and requested Cipla to transfer us technology so that drugs could be manufactured locally in Africa. Now, I am very pleased because even if we do not get any drugs from outside, production will be assured very soon.

“The local production of ARVs will also provide employment to highly trained scientists in Uganda as well as middle-level pharmaceutical workers. It will bring in technology and that can be used to develop other pharmaceutical enterprises in the future.

“Indigenous manufacturing of ARVs will also save the government money that would otherwise have been spent on transport, freight and all that,” the Ugandan vice president told IANS.

But setting up the $38 million plant in Kampala, which will produce 1.2 billion tablets a year, and opting to source ARV supplies from Indian generic drug manufacturers, then moving towards local production of the drugs through technical collaboration with Cipla has not been an easy choice.

“We are under pressure. But I believe sub-Saharan Africa has to do this to combat the HIV and AIDS epidemic and develop our respective countries,” Bukenya said, declining to elaborate further.

Western manufacturers of the same drugs have been fierce competitors of the Indian makers in the African market.

“The collaboration between Cipla and its Ugandan partner is an important example of how to increase local supply of vital medications to match increasing demand,” said Ronak Shah, research coordinator in the Programme of Life Sciences, Ethics and Policy at the Toronto-based McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health.

“But the challenge would be to make sure that the production is followed by a good distribution system that helps the drug reach all corners of Uganda and its neighbouring counties grappling with HIV and AIDS,” he added.

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