SAPA 2 July 2001

Johannesburg - The Office of the Presidency has confirmed that President Thabo Mbeki and Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang have been served with court papers in connection with a R1 million damages claim filed by a woman against a major drug company.

The Sunday Independent newspaper reported that Mbeki had been cited in support of the claim by widow Annet Hayman, of Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal, who filed against Glaxo Wellcome SA following the death of her husband who took the Aids drug AZT.

Presidential spokesperson Bheki Khumalo said that the presidency was aware of the case and court papers had been served on Mbeki and Tshabalala-Msimang.

He said the government was drawn into the matter because it allowed the registration of the drug and because of Mbeki's views on HIV/Aids.

Mbeki first made a claim about AZT's alleged toxicity in October 1998 when he told parliament that there was "a large volume of scientific evidence that AZT is harmful to health".

Khumalo said Mbeki would not participate in the case but would abide by a court decision.

In court papers served on Glaxo Wellcome SA, the local subsidiary of British drug conglomerate GlaxoSmithKline, Hayman said her husband died after taking AZT which the government had refused to hand out to rape victims because of its toxicity - a danger Mbeki had emphasised.

The claim states that Hayman was taking AZT, manufactured by Glaxo Wellcome, at the time of his death. He had begun taking it towards the end of July 1997 together with a related drug, 3TC, as had been prescribed following his HIV-positive diagnosis.

Hayman weighed 68kg when he began the treatment.

"The AZT treatment immediately made the deceased very ill, causing intractable diarrhoea and vomiting, intense headaches, profound lassitude, anaemia, muscle weakness with cramps and pain and progressive weight loss."

He reduced his dosage of AZT and extended it over two months instead of one month, as initially prescribed. He was hospitalised three times and died in June 1998 weighing 42kg.

The company said it would defend the claim.