South Africa Heeds Calls for Free Anti-AIDS Drugs
February 3, 2003
In a dramatic turnaround, the South African government is to announce next month a program that will eventually provide AIDS drugs free to all those who need them. South Africa's Finance Minister, Trevor Manuel, is expected to make the commitment in his budget speech. It will give, on average, an extra eight years of life to the country's 5 million people living with HIV and AIDS. The antiretroviral drugs will first be given in pilot programs to new mothers. The program will be expanded over the next few years, and the government is still considering how the drugs will be financed and distributed.Adapted from:
Ensuring the government's announcement of its initiative is not upstaged, the $70 million Global Fund grant to KwaZulu Natal -- which South Africa's Health Ministry tried to block, on the grounds that correct administrative procedures had not been followed -- was given the go-ahead on condition the program does not begin until March.
GlaxoSmithKline has given a license to a KwaZulu drug manufacturer, Aspen, to make Combivir. Stephen Saad, head of Aspen, is waiting for the Medical Control Council's approval before he can release the boxes piling up in his warehouse. What Glaxo calls its "preferential pricing at cost price" for state and non-governmental organizations will cost £33 ($54) per person per month. Aspen is restricted to selling to only the state and NGOs. By far the largest market will be the state, as HIV/AIDS affects so many poor people.
In KwaZulu, Dr. Irina Andre, of the Port Shepstone Hospital, said many mothers refuse to be tested for HIV while pregnant because a positive diagnosis can lead to family rejection. "This means the mothers don't get the nevirapine which could have protected their babies." Antiretroviral drugs must also be taken with food, a difficulty for many. "They come from families affected by malnutrition. If you feed them properly, they can fight of the virus for longer."
02.02.03; Liz McGregor