In its ongoing efforts to thwart the AIDS epidemic, the Government announced exemption of custom import duties for certain antiretroviral drugs and kits. At least a third of the 2.1 million afflicted with the ailment depend entirely on distribution of these free drugs provided by state-run centres, but many face shortage or stock outs of their daily medication for months. With this welcome step, the import of raw materials required for their manufacture under the national programme will be much cheaper.
The lack of restrictions will be in effect till March 31, 2016, said the notification issued by the Central Board of Excise and Customs. This would benefit Adult first line, Adult second line and Pediatric Antiretroviral drugs, as well as ‘Cluster of Differentiation (CD) 4 Kits/ Reagents, HIV-DNA-PCR Kits for DNA Testing of Early Infant Diagnostics, Viral Load Kits, CD4 Machines and Viral Load Machines’. The importer will also have to produce a certificate that the goods are required for the National AIDS Control Programme funded by Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.
According to Reuters data, the AIDS control programme had been in disarray following the recent change in distribution of federal funds. Construction of clinics in rural areas was also delayed, with health workers eventually quitting. Lack of participation by local drug manufacturers, in procuring drugs as per the National AIDS Control Organisation tenders, made matters worse. In the meantime, Industry insiders cite delayed tender approvals, supply bottlenecks and late payments, as well as poor coordination between the central and state governments for the interruption.
Antiretroviral drugs sold in the open market are expensive, and the government is expected to add more drugs under cover of price control by including them in the national list of essential medicines to render them affordable.