South Africa and HIV/AIDS
Source: UN Wire
* South African Company Will Produce First Generic AIDS Drug
* South African AIDS Epidemic Enters "Death" Phase, Experts Say
* WHO Chief Attacks South Africa's HIV/AIDS Policy
South African Company Will Produce First Generic AIDS Drug
Thursday, August 7, 2003
In an effort to provide South Africans with affordable HIV/AIDS
drugs, a South African drug company announced yesterday it had begun
producing, under license, the first cheap, generic copies of Bristol-
Myers Squibb's Zerit, and was working on versions of other AIDS
drugs, Associated Press reported yesterday:
Aspen Pharmacare, which invested two years and hundreds of thousands
of dollars on producing the drug Aspen-Stavudine, told reporters it
was offering one month's supply for between US$ 3 and US$ 4, depend-
ing on the dose. Zerit costs about US$ 5 in South Africa, where an
estimated 5 million people are infected with HIV.
Aspen CEO Stephen Saad said Aspen is also developing generic versions
of GlaxoSmithKline's Combivir, 3TC and AZT, as well as Boehringer
Once all of those generic versions are registered with South Africa's
Medicines Control Council, Saad said, Aspen will try to offer the
standard triple combination therapy for less than US$ 1 a day.
While the South African government praised the announcement, AIDS ac-
tivist group Treatment Action Campaign was more cautious. The group
criticized the exclusive license from Bristol-Myers, saying that only
when there was free competition among many generic companies would
AIDS drug prices drop to their lowest possible level (AP/CNN, Aug.
Aspen's announcement came as South Africa's first national AIDS con-
ference ended after four days with an emotional plea to the govern-
ment by an HIV-positive woman to provide AIDS drugs to South Afri-
"This is not a political game. We are suffering, we are angry, we
want access to treatment now," said a tearful Prudence Mabele at the
"I want to have a baby, but I can only do it when nevirapine is
available," she said (Stuart Graham, Agence France-Presse, Aug. 6).
South African AIDS Epidemic Enters "Death" Phase, Experts Say
Tuesday, August 5, 2003
As mortality rates outstrip new infections, South Africa is entering
the "death" phase of its AIDS epidemic, a part of the cycle that
threatens both the health care system and the economy, scientists
said at the country's first national AIDS conference yesterday.
"Mortality is really just starting and won't peak for another three
to four years," said Rod Hoff, a senior epidemiologist in the AIDS
division of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. "The social and
economic impact will be considerable. Industry is really going to
take a hit as people get sick," he added.
In a country where 4.7 million people are infected with the disease
the world's highest single caseload HIV/AIDS prevalence is starting
to plateau at around 33 percent, while sickness and death are rising.
Activists say 600 South Africans die of AIDS every day.
"What we are starting to see is the real face of the epidemic," said
Quarraisha Abdool Karim, a researcher at South Africa's University of
Researchers said that only an increased two-pronged approach of pre-
vention and treatment would be effective in combating HIV/AIDS in
South Africa. But the government has come under attack for its slow
response to the disease and especially for delaying the introduction
of antiretroviral drugs (Andrew Quinn, Reuters/Johannesburg Independ-
ent Online, Aug.4).
Activist Likens South Africa's HIV Drugs Policies To Genocide
Calling South Africa's HIV drugs policies "unethical, dangerous" and
"unscientific," some pediatricians yesterday urged doctors to protest
the Medical Control Council's threat to disapprove the drug nevirap-
ine for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission.
Health spokeswoman for the Inkatha Freedom Party Ruth Rabinowitz
called on doctors to "revolt" against the national policy "on behalf
of the entire medical fraternity so that we are not found guilty of
complicity with genocide."
Ashraf Coovadia, a pediatrician at Johannesburg's Coronation Hospi-
tal, said nevirapine which costs about $4 for a single dose had re-
duced the rate of mother-to-child transmission to 9 percent at his
"Around a quarter of new pediatric admissions are HIV-infected and
around 40 percent to 50 percent of the children lying in our wards
are HIV-infected," Coovadia said. He added that caring for a child
infected with HIV can cost up to $80 a month in medication.
The South African government currently receives nevirapine from its
manufacturer Boehringer Ingleheim at no charge, and will for the next
An estimated 8,000 babies in South Africa are born to HIV-infected
mothers every month. Few live beyond age 4, often needing repeated
hospital treatment in their short lifespan (Charlene Smith, Mail and
Guardian, Aug. 4).
Top HIV-infected Activist Abandons Protest
Zackie Achmat, an HIV-positive activist who pledged not to take anti-
retroviral drugs in an attempt to force the South African government
to offer the drug to its people, announced yesterday he is abandoning
his pledge, his effort having failed, Associated Press reported yes-
Achmat, 41, head of the Treatment Action Campaign, accused President
Thabo Mbeki's government of not caring about the lives of those in-
fected with HIV/AIDS.
"I am not going to die because they want us to die," Achmat said at
the AIDS conference in Durban.
Achmat will begin taking cheap, generic versions of AIDS drugs after
getting some medical tests, a spokesman for TAC said (AP/USA Today,
WHO Chief Attacks South Africa's HIV/AIDS Policy
Wednesday, August 6, 2003
World Health Organization Director General Lee Jong-wook yesterday
reproached South Africa's policy of omitting HIV/AIDS drugs from the
national treatment program in an interview with Agence France-Presse.
The new WHO leader compared the HIV/AIDS crisis to "Armageddon" and
called it "a global security issue," speaking while a national AIDS
conference was occurring in Durban.
"You have to provide treatment as well as prevention," he said, add-
ing that the WHO would step up its battle against the disease.
"We have to make drugs, real drugs, available to people in the needy
countries," he said.
"We have to count on the research-based pharmaceutical industry to
develop new antiretroviral drugs. So we have to really encourage them
to continuously develop new medicines, and at the same time vac-
cines," he said (AFP/Yahoo!News, August 5).
The government has barred public prescription of Nevirapine, a drug
that could stop HIV-positive mothers from passing the disease to
Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, head of South Africa's Anglican
Church, also offered sharp criticism of the government's refusal to
endorse antiretroviral drugs while speaking in Cape Town yesterday.
He argued the government has committed a "world disgrace as serious
as apartheid" in focusing on "traditional medicine" rather than
treatment (London Telegraph, August 6).
Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang defended her government's
policies at an anti-smoking conference in Iceland, BBC reported yes-
terday http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3126159.stm .
"On Aug. 31, I am launching a national institute for traditional
medicine because I think there is scope for it," Tshabalala-Msimang
said (BBC Online, August 5).
Meanwhile, a Washington scientist who travelled to the HIV/AIDS con-
ference lost years of HIV/AIDS research when his laptop computer was
stolen Sunday in Durban.
"I wanted to tell the conference that I think we understand how this
disease happens and we could have an exciting opportunity to create a
vaccine," he said. "It was cutting-edge material that I wanted to re-
lease at the conference this morning, but obviously I couldn't do
this," George Washington University professor James Mullins added
AFP/Washington Times, August 6).
Dr. Leela McCullough
Director of Information Services
30 California Street
Watertown, MA 02472, USA
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