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International News

South Africa's Constitutional Court Says Government Must Provisionally Provide Key AIDS Drug

April 4, 2002

South Africa's Constitutional Court upheld Thursday a lower court ruling that forced the government to immediately begin a program to distribute a key AIDS drug. The government had resisted creating a widespread program to provide nevirapine to HIV-infected pregnant women. The drug has been shown to reduce the chances of mothers passing the virus to their babies during labor by up to 50 percent.

A High Court judge ruled in December that South Africa must begin a nationwide nevirapine program. The judge also ruled the government must make the drug available at health institutions with the capacity to administer it while the government appeals the ruling. The High Court last week said the government should not be allowed to appeal that part of the ruling and must make the drug immediately available. The Constitutional Court agreed Thursday, refusing to hear the government's appeal on that section. The government will be allowed to appeal the whole ruling at a scheduled hearing in May. The Constitutional Court said it would explain its Thursday decision at that time.

Mark Heywood, a Treatment Action Campaign leader and head of the AIDS Law Project at the University of Witwatersrand, said the ruling could save the lives of many babies who would have become infected as the government appealed. "They most certainly will get nevirapine before the final ruling," he said. Health Department spokesperson Jo-Anne Collinge did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the ruling.

Nevirapine came under renewed debate in South Africa after its manufacturer, Boehringer-Ingelheim of Germany, withdrew its application with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to market the drug for prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission. The FDA noted irregularities with a study used to support the application, though US officials have repeatedly emphasized the drug has FDA approval for other AIDS treatments and was considered safe. US doctors remain free to prescribe it, including to prevent mother-to-child transmission.

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Adapted from:
Associated Press
04.04.02; Ravi Nessman



  
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
 

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