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Medical Group Says AIDS Drugs Help Survival Rate in Developing Countries - 2004-07-12

The aid group, Doctors Without Borders (known by its French name, Medecins sans Frontieres, or MSF) says anti-retroviral drugs can dramatically increase survival rates for people with HIV-AIDS in developing countries.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says that AIDS patients in developing countries who receive anti-retroviral drugs have an 85 percent chance of surviving two years after the treatment starts.

Using generic drugs, anti-retroviral treatment costs around $200 a year. But MSF says patients eventually develop resistance and need what is called second-line drugs, which can cost about $5,000 a year.

Kris Torgeson, an MSF spokeswoman, said that prices for second-line drugs must be cut or many people will die needlessly.

"There still is not enough being done to rapidly scale up access to treatment for all of those who need it," she said.

At the International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, MSF warned on Monday that a free trade agreement being negotiated between the United States and Thailand could endanger low cost treatments. Thailand produces low-cost generic anti-retroviral drugs, but the trade agreement could impose U.S. patent laws, and make second-line drugs more expensive. United States pharmaceutical companies say it is expensive to develop the drugs and they must recover their costs.

MSF also says pharmaceutical companies have not developed treatments for children with HIV-AIDS. Ms. Torgeson added that children take drugs formulated for adults and that there are no clear guidelines for treating children.

"Right now, children are basically being treated as if they are small adults because, there's a very small market for pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs specifically for children," she explained.

MSF treats 13,000 patients in 25 countries, and says more needs to be done to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child. About 700,000 children are infected each year during birth and through breast-feeding.