By Carmel Rickard

Sunday Times (SA) 1 July 2001

A woman is suing the manufacturer and supplier of AZT, an anti-HIV-AIDS drug, for nearly R1.5-million. She claims her husband died from taking it, that AZT is highly poisonous and that its risks far outweigh its benefits.

Annet Hayman, 41, a teacher from Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal, has launched legal action against Glaxo Wellcome, on behalf of her young son and herself, for the damage they have suffered as the result of the death of her attorney husband, James, in 1998.

In her case, Hayman also names President Thabo Mbeki and the Minister of Health, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, as defendants because of their "interest in the outcome" and because of the statements that they have made on the toxicity of AZT and their questioning of the efficacy of the drug.

Professor Peter Eagles, head of the South African Medicines Regulatory Authority, is named as the fourth defendant.

In her formal claim against the pharmaceutical giant, Hayman says her husband began a month-long course of AZT and a related drug known as 3TC after he tested positive for HIV.

At the time he weighed 68kg, was not sick and showed no symptoms, she says. However, as soon as he began to take the medication in late July 1997, he became very ill and refused a second course of treatment, but never recovered and died less than a year later.

Although he suffered no opportunistic infection during the period of his illness, he progressively declined physically to the point where he became bedridden, was unable to keep down any food, was incontinent, vomited uncontrollably and was unable to feed or bathe himself.

He could not walk without assistance, pick himself up when he fell, or speak without slurring.

Hayman claims her husband "died directly as a result of cellular toxicity of AZT".

She claims Glaxo Wellcome has a duty of care to the South African public not to misrepresent the effect of AZT by making claims that have either been disproved or that were unproved. The company also had a duty not to make unsafe or ineffective dosage recommendations, to properly describe AZT's ill effects and hazards, and to issue prominent warnings against AZT's potentially life-threatening toxicities.

She says Glaxo should not supply an "unreasonably dangerous and defective drug".

Glaxo has already indicated that it will defend the claim, and has until next week to spell out its answer to each of the claims made by Hayman.

Attorneys involved in the case said it was likely that the matter would be argued in the High Court early next year.