E.U. Officials Unveil Plan to Regulate Shipping of Discounted AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Drugs to Developing Nations
European Union officials yesterday unveiled a plan to ensure that discounted antiretroviral drugs and other medicines earmarked for developing nations are not diverted back to wealthier nations to be sold at higher prices, the AP/Wall Street Journal reports. Under the proposal, pharmaceutical companies would have the option of registering and placing logos on shipments of discounted drugs slated for developing countries. The different packaging would help distinguish the cheaper drugs from higher-priced medicines destined for pharmacies in wealthier nations. Drug makers had been lobbying for tighter shipping regulations since reports earlier this month revealed that shipments of discounted antiretroviral drugs earmarked for developing nations were being diverted back to markets in wealthier European nations (AP/Wall Street Journal, 10/31). It is estimated that 28 shipments of GlaxoSmithKline's antiretroviral drugs Combivir, Epivir and Trizivir were diverted by European wholesalers from Africa to markets in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom between July 2001 and July 2002. The 28 shipments comprised three million doses of drugs and had an estimated retail value of $18 million; they were intended for distribution in five African nations. Although only two individuals have been arrested in conjunction with the smuggling, officials suspect that a number of businesses and individuals were involved in the diversion schemes (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/29).
"As shown by recent events in the Netherlands, robust and effectively implemented barriers to reimportation are vital in ensuring medicines intended for poor patients actually reach them," Brian Ager, director general of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, said (AP/Wall Street Journal, 10/31). The proposal has been approved by the European Commission, and the governments of individual E.U. member nations are expected to adopt the plan by the end of the year, Agence France-Presse reports (Agence France-Presse, 10/30). The proposal currently applies only to drugs to treat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, but E.U. officials said that they may extend the plan to cover medicines to treat other diseases if it proves successful (AP/Wall Street Journal, 10/31). E.U. Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy said he hoped other countries such as the United States, Canada and Japan would adopt similar plans (Ames, Associated Press, 10/30).
PRI's "Marketplace" yesterday reported on antiretroviral drug diversions (Beard, "Marketplace," PRI, 10/30). The full segment is available in RealPlayer Audio online.