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Zimbabwe Health Minister Urges Firms To Slash AIDS Drug Prices

Zimbabwe Health Minister David Parirenyatwa has called for a reduction in prices for antiretroviral drugs for people living with HIV/AIDS, saying they are too high.

The state-controlled Herald newspaper quoted the health minister as saying the market price of Z$10 million (US$10) to Z$20 million for a one-month supply of generic ARVs was excessive. Public sector clinics charge about Z$500,000.

Many who cannot afford the drugs either stop their treatment or take cheaper drugs which are often counterfeit or have passed their expiration date.

Dr. Parirenyatwa said the government would work with the private sector to cut prices.

Most ARV distributors must import them – Zimbabwe has only one domestic producer, state-controlled Varichem – and mark up prices to break even or turn a profit.

An acute shortage of hard currency has reduced Varichem's ability to manufacture enough drugs, contributing to the critical shortage of ARVs.

Dr. Parirenyatwa told the Herald that his ministry would work with ARV producers to determine the actual cost of manufacturing the pharmaceuticals so that they could be priced to allow a reasonable margin to firms but be more affordable to patients.

"When they finish working on the modalities, we expect them to come back with a feedback on the actual cost of manufacturing ARVs before they are sold to the public," the Herald quoted Dr. Parirenyatwa as saying.

Estimates of the number of Zimbabweans who need ARVs ranges from 300,000 to a half million. But only about 90,000 are receiving drugs free of charge from clinics run by the state or charitable organizations, while others must purchase them.

Pan-African Treatment Movement steering group member Matilda Moyo told reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that most firms were likely to resist price reductions, fearing reduced earnings or outright losses on trade.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...