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Free AIDS drug offer in limbo

In July 2000 the German-based pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) offered

the Cambodian Government a free, five-year supply of the anti-retroviral drug Nevirapine

(marketed under the name 'Viramune') used to block the mother-to-child transmission

of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

According to a BI spokesperson, Judith Von Gordon, the Government of Cambodia has

so far made no inquires about the company's offer to provide Cambodia's Nevirapine

needs for the next five years.

Some 3,500 Cambodian babies are born annually with HIV because of the country's inability

to provide sufficient blood testing, counseling and treatment services for mothers

infected with HIV.

Von Gordon said to qualify for this donation, Cambodia had to first develop a sustainable,

comprehensive program to treat mothers and their children.

To date Senegal, Uganda, and Rwanda have agreed to participate in BI's 'Viramune

(Nevirapine) Donation Program'.

However, Cambodian health officials claim they have not heard about BI's Nevirapine

offer

Both Minister of Health (MoH), Hong Sun Huot, and the Deputy Director of the National

Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STDs (NCHADS), Hor Bunleng, told the Post that

they were not aware of BI's free Nevirapine program .

"[NCHADS] did not learn anything about the German company regarding the Nevirapine,

maybe the Ministry of Health [knows].....I am not clear about why we did not reply

for a donation or assistance," said Bunleng.

He added that if the offer was made to Cambodia last year it would have been too

early as the MoH has only just developed its policy guidelines on combating mother-to-child

HIV transmission.

But Geoff Manthey, Country Program Advisor for UNAIDS, is under the impression that

the Government is indeed aware of BI's offer.

"[BI] has made an offer to make the drug available, with lots of strings attached,

and with negotiations on a country by country basis.

"[In Cambodia] they have, quite rightly I think, started the process to be able

to take that offer up by developing guidelines and policies. It is not just a matter

of saying 'okay, give us the drug'.

"The Government considers this very serious - they do want to take up any options

available to them, but it is a matter of doing some ground work first," he said.

"[The Government] has accelerated things to try and get to the stage where they

can take advantage of [the offer]. When they get to that stage they may say okay,

we go this way, or in fact it might be cheaper to get Nevirapine from another country,"

said Manthey, adding that Cambodia is among the top countries in the region for developing

HIV prevention and care services.

According to UNAIDS, an estimated 1,800 HIV-infected babies are born in developing

countries every day.

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