The United Kingdom's National Health Service has purchased antiretroviral drugs illegally diverted from developing countries around the world, according to a report on BBC Radio's Five Live Report, BBC News reports. The country's Department of Health said they have guidelines to ensure diverted medicines do not end up being used by NHS. However, a British-based company that holds "major" NHS contracts is being investigated by the U.K. Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency over allegations it obtained supplies of antiretrovirals that originally were destined for Kenya but were diverted back to the United Kingdom (Chapman, BBC News, 4/24). Drugs provided as "aid" to developing countries are not allowed to be brought back into the 25-nation European Union, the Daily Mail reports (Brooke, Daily Mail, 4/25). Five Live reported multiple cases of drugs that originally were destined for Africa or Eastern Europe being purchased by NHS. Some of these are summarized below.
- Former bookmaker Adam Knight of Nazeing, England, in January was fined approximately $95,000 after admitting he made a profit of about $286,000 on antiretrovirals meant for Africa that were eventually bought by NHS.
- The pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline has said some of its antiretrovirals earmarked for Senegal, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Chad were imported back in the United Kingdom via Switzerland and that the drugs were sold to NHS by the pharmaceutical company Dowelhurst. GSK filed a lawsuit against Dowelhurst claiming that the company must have known the drugs were destined for Africa because of the "cheap prices" it paid for them, according to BBC News. Dowelhurst denied the charge, saying they paid "normal prices" for the drugs but acknowledged that Claude Horn, the Swiss trader from whom the company bought the GSK drugs, was not licensed to sell them in the European Union, according to BBC News.
- A British company called UK Aid -- established to supply antiretrovirals and other necessary drugs to Eastern Europe -- sold antiretrovirals to an Italian pharmaceutical company even though it did not have an E.U. prescription drug license, according to BBC News. Some of those drugs were bought by NHS, BBC News reports. However, UK Aid Director Leslie Silverman and pharmaceutical consultant Martin Mitchell said the allegations against the company are "rubbish," but they did not comment further, according to BBC News.
An unnamed senior buyer for NHS said the agency has to trust that its suppliers obtain their antiretroviral drugs legally. "I remember being offered batches of antiretrovirals and being a bit suspicious of where they had come from," the buyer said, adding, "There were enough concerns on my part to have them tested, but when we found nothing wrong with the drugs we bought them. You don't have the time to find out where every batch has come from" (BBC News, 4/24). At the pretrial hearings in the Dowelhurst case, Judge Peter Prescott said he was surprised GSK would supply Dowelhurst "without taking any precautions to see that the medicines really did arrive in, and stay in, West Africa" (Boseley, Guardian, 4/25). GSK said that it is implementing new security measures, including changing the color of pills it gives to not-for-profit groups (BBC News, 4/24).
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