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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 
Ingelheim's nevirapine.
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 
closing ceremony.
"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 
three years.
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, 
Aug. 4).
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 
their children.
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 . 
"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
Tel: +1-617-926-9400
Fax: +1-617-926-1212

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