Epidemic Proportions

Q: Several pharmaceutical companies have recently decided to slash the price of antiretroviral drugs for developing countries, most notably Africa. But even with the price cut, a year's supply of drugs still would cost about $1,000--more money than most Africans earn in a year. So is there less to this than meets the eye?

It is true that most Africans with H.I.V. won't have access to the drugs. But not everybody is living below the poverty line. People working in the private sector often have insurance. This is going to benefit tens of thousands of people.

But for the vast majority of Africans, this is only symbolic gesture.

Look, we aren't naive. Ninety to 95 percent of Africans who carry the virus don't even know they are infected. So we've got to work on a lot of very basic issues. This is just one step, but it's important because it's the first time the big pharmaceutical companies accept the principle of equity pricing, that the same product can be sold in a poor market for less than it's sold in a rich market.
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