South Africa hits out at pharmaceutical companies on AIDS drugs

South Africa said on Monday AIDS drugs were ineffective and produced side effects almost as bad as the disease itself.

The African National Congress (ANC) government accused an alliance led by the pharmaceutical industry, and including AIDS activists and churches, of trying to force it into dispensing harmful antiretroviral drugs. “Government is resisting pressure to provide to all and sundry highly toxic drugs that offer no hope of eradicating the virus,” ANC spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama said in a letter sent to the country’s leading Business Day newspaper.

South Africa has balked on cost and safety grounds at the nationwide use of antiretroviral AIDS drugs, which slow down the duplication of the virus that leads to full-blown AIDS. The ANC’s latest attack on the drug industry came weeks after London-based GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) granted a license to South African generic producer Aspen Pharmacare to manufacture its AZT, 3TC and Combivir antiretroviral drugs. But the success of the scheme, which could drastically cut the cost of these drugs to around $1.61 per pill, will hinge on whether the government offers a state tender to Aspen for GSK’s products under license. 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. Mirryena Deeb, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of South Africa, said, “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.”

Source: CDC HIV/STD/TB Prevention News Update

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