Pill’s progress

After months of badgering by AIDS activists and health officials, the US has found a way to provide cheap generic drugs and single-pill combinations of drugs to millions of people infected with the AIDS virus in Africa and the Caribbean. The administration won plaudits last year when it announced a $15 billion program to combat AIDS in poor nations. But that turned into dismay when it balked at paying for the treatments the WHO deemed the most effective. The US said it had doubts about the safety of the combined pills, but it might also have wanted to protect its patrons in the drug industry.

Now, in a stunning change of course, Tommy Thompson, secretary of health and human services, has announced an expedited review process to ensure the safety of the pills. He has also offered assurances that patent issues will not impede purchases of these drugs for poor countries.

Any country receiving grants from the main international AIDS program was already able to buy the generic pills with that money. The main effect of the new policy is that American funds will be available. Some health advocates grumble that US is piling on an unnecessary level of review. But if the administration felt it needed FDA review to ensure safety and efficacy, the result can only be beneficial to millions of infected individuals. — The New York Times