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West African Health Organization Works to Speed Access to HIV/AIDS Drugs

The West African Health Organization says local production of anti-retroviral drugs is critical to making the drugs readily available to people with HIV/AIDS.

Less than 10 percent of the nearly six million people infected with HIV/AIDs in West Africa have access to anti-retroviral therapy (ARV), which health experts say extend life expectancy, and reduce the risk of transmission of the disease.

Professor Moussa Maiga, deputy director general of the West African Health Organization (WAHO) told a consultative meeting in Accra that local production of ARVs would both ensure quality, and lower cost of the drugs, thereby improving access.

The Accra meeting, which brings together national policy-makers, representatives of drug regulatory bodies and local pharmaceutical firms, is one of three by WAHO in the sub-region, aimed at coordinating public-private partnership to speed up local production of generic ARVs in West Africa.

Dan Botwe, deputy chief executive of Ghana's food and drug board is coordinating the meeting.

"So, this workshop is trying to come up with recommendations for governments, for the industry itself, for regulatory authorities, and for ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] as to how all these organizations can begin a certain approach that, at the end of the day, will make the product available in the first place, accessible in the second place and affordable," he said.

WAHO is supporting West African neighbors Benin, Nigeria and Ghana to harmonize the process of producing the HIV/AIDS drugs for the sub-region, where the drugs are currently being imported.

Botwe stressed the importance of coordinating resources.

"Obviously, the market size is bigger," he added. "There will be a market available for whichever local manufacturer, or manufacturers, are able to produce these things [anti-retroviral drugs] at acceptable quality, acceptable safety and efficacy, under a regime where they do not infringe on any international trade regulations or conventions."

The Global Fund supports national governments in developing countries to supply anti-retroviral therapy to AIDS suffers at a subsidized price. However, the Fund requires that the drugs and the manufacturers meet World Health Organization certification.