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Malaysia says spread of AIDS could hurt economy, will keep providing generic drugs

Malaysia says spread of AIDS could hurt economy, will keep providing generic drugs

The spread of AIDS threatens to drag down the Malaysian economy, so the government will continue to provide low-cost locally produced generic drugs to contain the disease, an official said Thursday.
If the country doesn't take stronger measures to stop AIDS, the country faces the risk of an epidemic within a few years that will hit people in the prime of their productive years, devastating the workforce, said the health ministry's director of disease control Ramlee Rahmat.
"This may wipe out all the developmental gains we have achieved since independence," Ramlee said in a speech during the opening of a U.N.-organized conference to commemorate World AIDS Day Dec. 1.
Three people die from AIDS every day in Malaysia, the health ministry said in June. As many as 73,000 Malaysians have been infected with the HIV, the AIDS virus. Three-quarters are intravenous drug users. Seven percent are women.
Ramlee said the country was "committed to making antiretroviral therapy affordable and accessible to all who need it" and had "taken courageous steps before this in 'breaking' the patent law by importing cheaper, generic antiretroviral drugs."
He said Malaysia only "recently" began its pilot project providing free antiretroviral drugs at government clinics, with an aim to reach 5,000 by year's end.
Ramlee told reporters it previously cost the government around 2,200 ringgit (US$606; euro460.59) per person monthly for antiretroviral drug treatment, but said the introduction of a locally-produced version brought the cost down to around 150 ringgit (US$41.36; euro31.44), enabling the government to give it out for free.
Non-governmental organizations providing care to AIDS patients and activists have said if Malaysia and the United States agree to a free trade pact, the cost of generic drugs could rise dramatically under patent protection laws. Negotiations end in 2006, and a pact could be signed as soon as 2007.
Still, World Health Organization representative for Malaysia Dr. Han Tieru said it was more crucial health workers focus on reaching as many victims as possible, as less than 10 percent are being actively treated, instead of the "long-term concern" of drug costs.
The United Nations also prodded the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian nation to pump more funds into curbing the spread of AIDS.
"The undeniable fact is that HIV/AIDS numbers are continuing to rise. The numbers continue to go up exponentially," U.N. Resident Coordinator for Malaysia Richard Leete told reporters Thursday. "We need to campaign the government to put more resources into the fight."


Updated : 2021-10-25 11:12 GMT+08:00