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fizer has unveiled an eye-catching programme which will allow unemployed Americans who have lost their health insurance to continue receiving the drug major’s medicines for no cost.

The company says that the inspiration for the new programme, called MAINTAIN (Medicines Assistance for Those who Are in Need), “was generated by Pfizer employees who were witnessing friends, family and neighbours struggle to make ends meet after losing their jobs”. To qualify for free access to more than 70 drugs, applicants will have lost their jobs since January 1 and been taking prescribed Pfizer medicines for at least three months prior to becoming unemployed.

The applicants also need to "attest to financial hardship" and if successful, the applicants and their families will get free treatments for up to one year, or until the they becomes re-insured. Pfizer’s regional president of worldwide pharmaceuticals, Jorge Puente, said: “We thought there must be some way we could help recently unemployed people who are taking Pfizer medicines to continue treatment during these challenging economic times.”

Pfizer chief executive Jeffrey Kindler said that “the speed with which we created and approved this programme is proof of our commitment” to help people access medicines. “We are doing what we can to ensure that recent loss of employment does not preclude people from managing their health,” he added.

The idea was proposed by Pfizer employees within the last month and they will donate their own money to the programme. The Pfizer Foundation will match their donations, but the firm has not disclosed how much the scheme is expected to cost.

Commenting on the Pfizer initiative, Les Funtleyder, an analyst at Miller Tabak, was quoted as saying that "the non-cynical view is they're just trying to help out in a time of need," However, he added that "the less charitable view is it's a bit of a marketing ploy. It's positive PR, and possibly a good direct-marketing tool."