SOUTH AFRICA LASHES OUT AT FIRMS ON AIDS DRUGS
By Steven Swindells
Reuters 22 Oct. 2001
Johannesburg -- South Africa said on Monday that HIV drugs
were ineffective and produced side effects almost as bad as the
The African National Congress (ANC) government accused an alliance led
by the pharmaceutical industry, and including HIV/AIDS activists and
churches, of trying to force it into dispensing harmful
"Government is resisting pressure to provide to all and sundry
highly toxic drugs that offer no hope of eradicating the virus,'' ANC
spokesman Smuts Ngonyama said in a letter sent to the country's
leading Business Day newspaper.
"It will not be stampeded into taking positions that do not improve
the health of our people on a sustainable basis,'' Ngonyama said,
referring to US research that highlighted the risks of heart disease
and cancer associated with antiretroviral treatment.
Ngonyama called the side effects "almost as bad as the illness that
they are supposed to alleviate.''
But the South African drug industry denied that antiretroviral drugs
"All medicines, including antiretrovirals, are registered by drug
regulatory bodies around the world as being safe and effective
provided they are used as prescribed under medical supervision
because it is found that the benefits of those drugs far outweigh any
potential side effects,'' said Mirryena Deeb, chief executive of the
Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of South Africa.
South Africa has balked on cost and safety grounds at the nationwide
use of antiretroviral HIV drugs, which slow down the duplication of
the virus that leads to full-blown AIDS.
South Africa's AIDS policy also attracted a whirlwind of criticism
after President Thabo Mbeki questioned whether HIV actually does
This is despite South Africa having more people living with HIV/AIDS
than any other country in the world. An estimated 5 million people --
or one in nine South Africans -- are affected.
The ANC's latest attack on the drug industry came weeks after London-
based GlaxoSmithKline granted a licence to South African generic
producer Aspen Pharmacare to manufacture its AZT, 3TC and Combivir
But the success of the plan, which could drastically cut the cost of
these drugs to around 15 rand (US$1.61) per pill, will hinge on
whether the government offers a state tender to Aspen for GSK's
products under licence.
Ngonyama, questioning the motives of the industry, said German
pharmaceutical giant Boehringer Ingelheim had funded an AIDS activist
group that was demanding the use of antiretrovirals.
The company has previously denied the allegation.
Pretoria is facing a court challenge by the country's leading AIDS
group, the Treatment Action Campaign, for not allowing the drug
nevirapine in state hospitals to reduce the risk of mothers passing
HIV to their babies.
A senior health official is being sued on behalf of a 6-month-old
baby who contracted HIV from her mother, on the grounds that health
workers failed in their duty to provide proper care.