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Drug Firms Meet Annan, Pledge on AIDS Medicines

Nine pharmaceutical companies, including three from India, met with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan here and pledged to help provide universal access to medicines to treat AIDS.//

The India-based drug firms present at the meet Monday were Aurobindo Pharma Ltd, Hetero Drugs Ltd and Ranbaxy Laboratories.

The meeting was the first time that generic drug makers such as Aspen Pharmacare, Africa's largest generic drug manufacturer, joined the world's leading research-based companies at such UN discussions, Annan said in a statement.

The nine companies agreed Monday to step up their cooperation toward meeting a goal set by the UN AIDS programme and other UN organisations to make testing kits and drugs available to the entire world by 2010, said the secretary-general.

Among the top new priorities for world AIDS programmes are the development of medications and diagnostics for infants and children, and of female-controlled prevention technologies, such as microbicides, which can be released during intercourse to prevent transmission.

The companies compiled a list of these commitments, but Annan said they were "not sufficient given the scale of the challenge" in containing and treating HIV, with which 38.6 million people around the world are now living, according to UN estimates.

To keep the ball rolling, Annan said, the same group should meet once a year at a "high level" to review progress and develop new plans.

Until agreements were brokered under the leadership of Annan and former US president Bill Clinton in recent years, research companies such as Merck, which has become a leader in AIDS vaccine research, guarded their drug-patent rights from generic manufacturers.

The copyright standoff kept expensive AIDS medicines out of reach of regions where the AIDS epidemic was worst, such as Africa.

But recently, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved several
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