The Trump administration announced on Thursday that it will buy up to 160 million of the generic forms of a drug designed to combat HIV/AIDS in order to expand access to the medicine for countries around the world.
Trump first announced the health department’s plans to buy up the generic forms of the drug, called antiretroviral tablets, in a June speech before the United Nations, as the Trump administration worked to improve access to AIDS drugs. Officials said Thursday that it would buy up to 100 million of the pills by the end of 2018 and the balance by the end of 2019.
Antiretroviral therapies are complex medicines that suppress the virus, and are among the best tools available to fight HIV/AIDS. The pills can be given orally, but can be difficult to administer in hard-to-reach places, which is why the drugmakers designed the generic versions. The medicine also comes with strong, addictive side effects, as well as about $100 a day in U.S. costs.
Before Thursday’s announcement, the United States’ stockpile of the medicine in generic form was almost exhausted, leaving countries to purchase the costly medication on the black market. Many developing countries that do have access to the U.S. version of the medicine lack the money to import it.
Covidien, a generic drugmaker, said it will provide the drug at cost to the United States for 10 years, and create a mechanism to help other countries.
U.S. officials said Thursday that because the pills do not trigger patent protection, they would be available to countries without a patent on the medicine, including those with significantly lower, public health budgets.
The U.S. has already purchased nearly 150 million generic versions of the drugs for $1.1 billion over the last five years. The World Health Organization estimates that about 2 million people in the developing world are on antiretroviral therapies. The United States says it serves about 1.3 million people globally on those medicines.