China is selling its first domestically produced anti-AIDS drug, which is cheaper than imported medicines. But most Chinese AIDS sufferers still cannot afford treatment for their disease.
The generic form of the anti-AIDS drug, AZT, is known in China as Kedu. Makers of the lower-cost drug say it will significantly ease the financial burden of AIDS patients in China.
Alan Schnur, who researches communicable diseases for the World Health Organization in Beijing, welcomes the sale of Kedu as a step in the right direction. "It's totally unacceptable to sentence people to a death sentence from AIDS because they cannot afford the price of the anti-retroviral drugs," he says.
AZT is one of the oldest anti-AIDS drugs, and is a component of the so-called cocktail treatment that has sharply reduced AIDS-related deaths in Western countries.
Imported AZT costs the average Chinese patient more than $3,600 dollars a year, whereas Kedu is expected to cost less than $1,200. That is still expensive in a country where the average urban income is $800 annually.
Mr. Schnur says the other problem is that Kedu is only one of the medications needed in combination with other drugs to extend the lives of AIDS patients. "WHO has been working very hard to have the manufacturers of the other anti-viral drugs to bring their price down so they can be affordable in developing countries. … The AZT component of the AIDS treatment will become cheaper, but there are other drugs that need to be combined with the AZT in order to be effective and to prevent a build-up of resistance to the drugs," says Mr. Schnur. "So it will have some impact but the total price will still be more expensive than people can afford."
China's Drug Administration approved Kedu last month, and the drug went on sale Sunday. The patent for the anti-AIDS drug AZT expired at the end of last year.
State media say there are 850,000 people in China with AIDS or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. But health experts say the real number of cases is much higher.