SOUTH AFRICA II: Health Minister Criticizes Activists for Illegally Importing Low-Cost AIDS Drugs
South African Health Minister Manto Tshasbalala-Msimang Wednesday criticized the Treatment Action Campaign, an activist group, for illegally importing low-cost AIDS-related drugs from Thailand, the Agence France-Presse reports. The TAC announced Tuesday that the group had imported from Thailand 5,000 Biozole capsules, the less expensive version of drug giant Pfizer Inc.'s Fluconazole, a drug used to treat meningitis. According to TAC officials, Pfizer sells the drug in South Africa for $10.58 per capsule in the private sector and for $3.77 per capsule to the government, while the Thai version costs only $.23 per capsule. Tshasbalala-Msimang called the importation "not acceptable in a country that is governed by the rule of law," adding that she "fully understands the desperate situation" for South Africans without AIDS-related drugs. She concluded that the South African government would "continue to engage pharmaceutical companies and the international community with the aim of reducing drug prices and improving the accessibility of these drugs." While two other "pressure groups" backed TAC's move, local drug manufacturer Generix International and the opposition Democratic Alliance party "condemned" the action. Generix CEO Iqbal Moosa warned that importing drugs without the approval of the Medicines Controls Council, a national agency that registers pharmaceuticals, may result in "tragic" consequences. In addition, DA spokesperson Kobus Gous said that illegally imported drugs would not undergo "quality control" testing, and "[u]nder those circumstances, medicine could not only be dangerous but also prove to be fatal." Last week, TAC Chair Zachie Achmat called importation of drugs part of the group's "defiance campaign" against "patent abuse and AIDS profiteering" by the world's drug companies (Agence-France Presse, 9/19).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.