Business Day, 14 October 2002, UN fund approves generic Aids drugs, By Geoff Dyer

LONDON - The Global Fund to fight Aids, the UN-backed scheme to tackle the epidemic in the developing world, has thrown its weight behind the use of generic copies of Aids drugs.

The fund, which is also designed to address malaria and tuberculosis, said on Friday that the programmes it financed should seek to buy the lowest-priced drugs they could find, whether they were patented or generic.

"Until now grantees did not know what to buy because we did not have a policy, but now there is clear advice that they should get the lowest possible price," said Anil Soni, a senior official at the Global Fund.

The fund was set up last year at the instigation of Kofi Annan, UN secretary-general, to finance treatment and prevention programmes for the three diseases which cause nearly 6m deaths a year, mostly in the developing world.

The brand-name pharmaceutical industry has lobbied hard against the use of generics in the developing world, arguing that some of them might not be safe and that they would encourage greater use of counterfeit medicines. However, the board of the Global Fund, which met in Geneva on Friday, recommended that countries should use the list of drugs approved by the World Health Organisation, which includes several manufactured by Indian generics companies.

The decision was welcomed by Aids activists. However, they criticised the fund's board for scaling back planned spending next year.

Its secretariat had initially proposed additional spending in 2003 of $3.6bn (3.8bn, 2.3bn) but this has been reduced to $2bn. Officials said this was because there would be one fewer funding round next year than initially planned.

"Removing one round of grants will lead to more lives being lost and additional costs," said Paul Zietz, of the Global Aids Alliance. "Whether this was the result of pressure from donors or a genuine decision about the logistics of the fund, we do not know."

Jeffrey Sachs, the Colombia University economist who is also an adviser to Mr Annan at the UN, slammed the US government for planning to donate only $200m to the fund next year.

"The Bush administration has been shockingly inept," he said. "We are still bat- tling the basic problem of the US and other rich countries standing back while an unprecedented pandemic devastates so much of the poorer world."

Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund, said: "The programmes are ready. Any delay now will be measured by millions of lives."