January 20, 2009 / 3:27 AM / 10 years ago

China rolls out two HIV drugs to tackle resistance

BEIJING (Reuters) - China will provide two imported HIV drugs to patients who develop resistance to cheaper, domestic alternatives, state media said on Monday, going some way to meeting a key demand of AIDS treatment activists.

The decision to hand out the new drugs means that nine of 20 drugs to combat AIDS are now available to patients in China, the official China Daily said, citing senior Health Ministry official Hao Yang.

Treatment with Tenofovir, marketed by Gilead Sciences Inc under the brand Viread, and Kaletra, manufactured by Abbott Laboratories, cost over $1,500 a year each.

In comparison, the other drugs already available in China cost as little as 5,000 yuan ($730), the report added.

The new offerings come after a nationwide survey released last year showed that more than 17 percent of HIV patients in China had developed resistance to available drugs.

China estimated at the end of 2007 that about 700,000 people were infected with HIV, up from an earlier estimate of 650,000.

Although HIV infection is incurable, cocktails of the drugs can control the virus.

Nearly 60,000 people had received free HIV drugs since they were first offered in 2003, cutting the mortality rate in China from over a quarter in 2002 to just 5.8 percent in 2007, the China Daily said.

Drug-resistant HIV strains are turning up in parts of China as the virus stretches beyond high-risk groups and gains a stronger foothold in the general population, a leading Chinese AIDS researcher said late last year.

($1=6.834 Yuan)

Reporting by Emma Graham-Harrison and Editing by Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Nick Macfie

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