African AIDS Pills Hit Black Market
December 30, 2002
Medicines provided cheaply to treat AIDS patients in Africa are being smuggled back to Britain and sold on the black market, and British police believe African officials are making tens of millions of dollars a year on the drugs. British investigators have smashed a smuggling ring in Senegal, West Africa, where a government-appointed official sold $18 million worth of AIDS drugs to pharmacists in Europe. Interpol is investigating another smuggling ring in South Africa.
The discovery is an embarrassment to British government ministers who have pressured manufacturers to provide the drugs to Africa at no profit. The ministerial pressure culminated in November when Prime Minister Tony Blair pushed through a two-tier pricing system to ensure the supply of cheap drugs to poorer countries. Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of AIDS drugs are being sold at cost to Africa with the understanding that they will not be sold for profit in developing countries.
Investigators working for GlaxoSmithKline discovered in October that millions of dollars worth of Combivir shipped to Africa had been reimported into Europe via France and Belgium. Detectives found that drugs returned from Senegal had been sold by Africa Aids Africa, a Senegalese agency set up by President Abdoulaye Wade and funded by Western governments. AAA head Latife Gueye, who was appointed by Wade, acknowledged selling the drugs to European businessmen but said he did so only because he needed to buy vital equipment. Gueye has been fired and is under police investigation. "This has been a disaster for Senegal's AIDS program," Wade said on Senegalese TV.
A GSK spokesperson said further investigations involving Interpol had been initiated in other African countries. Detectives are also investigating the discovery of more than $15 million in AIDS-related drugs believed to have been smuggled out of South Africa, some of which turned up in London.
12.30.02; Rajeev Syal, London Sunday Telegraph
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.