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[DAR ES SALAAM] Some of the world's leading drug companies have agreed to halve the cost of antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS patients in nine countries in the Caribbean, as well as Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa and Tanzania.

The deal was struck last week by the William J. Clinton Foundation, led by the former US president, Bill Clinton.

Under the deal, the companies Cipla, Ranbaxy amd Aspen Pharmacare will cut the price of their antiretroviral drugs. Matrix Laboratories have also agreed to provide the active ingredient to these manufacturers at a reduced price.

For example, under the Clinton Foundation agreement, the price of one commonly used triple drug therapy combination will be reduced from US$300 to less than $140 per person per year.

"Today is a great day for the 2.2 million Tanzanians living with HIV, and those with full-blown AIDS," said President of Tanzania Benjamin William Mkapa in a speech welcoming the decision.

"For too long we in Africa who suffer most from the HIV/AIDS pandemic have argued and pleaded for much easier and affordable access to the drugs that can prevent HIV positive mothers from passing on the virus to their children [and the] drugs that can help HIV-positive breadwinners to live longer and be able to continue supporting their families."

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