MBEKI IS WRONG: AZT IS SAFE, SAYS GLAXO
SAPA 28 Oct. 1999
International medical company Glaxo Wellcome said on Thursday that President
Thabo Mbeki had been misinformed about the safety of the anti-AIDS drug AZT.
In a statement in Johannesburg it said that after extensive international
and local trials carried out on AZT, the medicine was approved safe to use
even in countries with stringent regulations such as the United States and
The company said South Africa's Medicines Control Council joined the US Food
and Drug Administration and its United Kingdom counterpart about 10-years
ago in giving AZT its stamp of approval.
It said the MCC had not indicated to it any concerns about the drug since
being introduced into the country.
"For more than a decade, AZT has extended and improved the quality of life
of millions of people living with HIV/AIDS around the globe," Glaxo Wellcome
SA medical director Peter Moore said.
On Thursday, Mbeki attempted to take the heat off his government and the
public health service on the issue of AZT (Azidothymidine), by saying it
could be dangerous to those who take it.
Addressing the National Council of Provinces in Cape Town, he said many
people had urged the government to make the drug available in the public
Mbeki was referring to calls from, among others, rape survivors themselves
that the drug be made freely available at hospitals and clinics.
There are also calls for the drug to be given to pregnant women with the HIV
"We are confronted with the scourge of HIV/AIDS against which we must leave
no stone unturned to save ourselves from the catastrophe which this disease
poses," Mbeki said.
However, it would be irresponsible not to heed the dire warnings which
medical researchers were making about AZT, he said.
Two issues had come to the government's attention.
One of these was that there were legal cases pending in South Africa, the
United Kingdom and the United States against AZT, on the basis that the drug
was harmful to health.
There also existed a large volume of scientific literature which claimed
that the drug's toxicity was a danger to health, Mbeki said.
"These are matters of great concern to the government, as it would be
irresponsible not to heed the dire warnings which medical researchers have
Moore said Glaxo Wellcome had not been notified about any pending court
cases regarding the safety of AZT in South Africa or overseas.
He said AZT had been authorised by the FDA, MCC in South Africa, and the
Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta, for use in pregnant women after their
first trimester to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus.
Mbeki asked Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, as a matter of
urgency, to investigate the concerns about AZT "so that to the extent that
is possible, we ourselves, including our country's medical authorities, are
certain of where the truth lies".
Tshabalala-Msimang told reporters afterwards that there was a body of
scientific research and information which indicated that AZT was indeed a
dangerous drug, and had not been designed for the treatment of HIV/AIDS.
Because it was unable to target only the human immunodeficiency virus when
it went to work in the body, it further weakened the immune system.
There was also a danger that because of "mutation", mothers taking the drug
might produce children with disabilities.
Tshabalala-Msimang said her ministry would not like to look back 10 or 15
years down the line and find it had exposed the "vast majority" of
historically-disadvantaged people in South Africa to a dangerous drug.
"We have to be very cautious, very sensitive," she said.
She also said there was no data proving that AZT was of any use to rape
Moore said he was concerned that Mbeki was encouraging NCOP members to
access information about the drug on the internet which he said was not
routinely medically reviewed and should not be considered as being
He said Mbeki's views could potentially raise unwarranted concerns among
patients using AZT leading them to stop the treatment without consulting
"Glaxo Wellcome applauds the president's commitment to fighting this scourge
in South Africa and welcomes the opportunity to discuss with him any
concerns he may have regarding the safety of AZT, as the company honestly
believes that in this case the president has been misinformed," Moore