South Africa AIDS drug settlement may not signify immediate influx of drugs

South Africa’s Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang “dropped a bombshell” yesterday when she announced that the government had “no immediate plans to use the landmark legal victory” to obtain antiretroviral drugs, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of South Africa and 39 pharmaceutical companies yesterday agreed to drop their lawsuit against the South African government over a law that would allow the country to import and manufacture cheaper generic AIDS drugs. But speaking before a “packed” conference room, the health minister said, “We never said we want to use antiretrovirals. But we have to place our options on the table to see what we will use.” Tshabalala-Msimang added that the drugs are “still too expensive, too dangerous and too difficult to manage for the government to incorporate them into its AIDS-fighting plans.” She said that the government would instead focus on “nutrition programs and better treatment of infections.”

Following the health minister’s statement, Zackie Achmat, chair of the South African Treatment Action Campaign, said that activists would “work to persuade the government to change its position on antiretroviral drugs.” The Journal notes that the case over the South African law was “technically about patent rights, not AIDS medication per se.” However, the issue of AIDS drugs was brought to the forefront as AIDS activists used the high cost of antiretrovirals as a “symbol of barriers preventing poor Africans from getting treatment” (Block, Wall Street Journal, 4/20). The Guardian added that “large numbers of people … regarded the court battle as primarily a struggle for drugs to combat the pandemic” (McGreal, Guardian, 4/20).

Source: Kaiser Daily Reports

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