Big shift in policy

Published: Wednesday 31 December 2003

On the eve of World aids Day (December 1), Union health minister Sushma Swaraj announced that aids medicine would be made available through the national aids control programme from next year. The plan hinges crucially on an agreement with the Indian generic drug industry to supply medicines cheap. Indeed, companies have sought assurances on sales volumes and tax concessions on certain imports used to make the drugs. "It will be the focus of the ministry's pre-budget exercise and if the finance minister and Planning Commission agree, we hope to make medicine available from April 1, 2004," Swaraj said.

A spokesperson for New Delhi-based Ranbaxy Laboratories said if the government slashed various taxes, the cost of drugs could fall to Rs 15.90, the cheapest in the world.

Swaraj's announcement also signals a major shift in the country's aids policy -- from prevention to anti-retroviral drug therapy. "The total medicine cost would be approximately Rs 113 crore and we plan to arrange for the money from our internal resources. Once the programme starts, donor agencies may chip in," the minister said. The programme is to be launched in six high-prevalent states.

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