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Activists Angered by Proposed US AIDS Drug Guidelines - 2004-04-07

The Bush administration says it is seeking new guidelines for generic AIDS drugs, a move that has angered AIDS activists. Pills that combine cheap copies of three brand-name AIDS drugs into one tablet were a central issue at a conference in the African nation of Botswana last week. The generic drugs are much cheaper than the brand-name originals. And patients take two of the generic pills a day, compared with six a day of the brand-name drugs.

But the Bush administration is reluctant to use the generics in its own plan to fight AIDS in the developing world. Administration officials say they want to see data showing that the copies are just as good as the originals. U.S. Deputy Global AIDS Coordinator John Lange says if the generics are not as good, the virus can become resistant to the drugs.

"If we were to purchase, at the large scale that is part of this plan, antiretroviral drugs that did NOT meet quality, safety, and efficacy standards, we could actually build up resistance and do far more harm than good," he said.

But critics say the Bush administration is protecting the interests of U.S.-based drug companies. Spokeswoman Sharonann Lynch of the activist group Health GAP points out that the World Health Organization has already approved the low-price generics.

"If the administration is successful, desperately-needed money will be wasted on overpriced products," said Sharonann Lynch. "And fewer dying people will get the treatment they need to live."

The administration's Mr. Lange says he expects a decision will be made on the issue before the end of this year.