Pfizer to Donate Diflucan to South Africa as Interest Groups Question MotivesPfizer Inc. is expected to announce on Friday that it will "give away" a two-year, $50 million supply of Diflucan, the company's costly AIDS-related medication, to the South African government, the Wall Street Journal reports. Activist groups have encouraged Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies to reduce the price of AIDS medications to enable greater distribution in poorer countries. The drugmakers Boehringer Ingelheim Gmbh and Glaxo Wellcome PLC have also agreed to provide free or reduced-price drugs to the Republic of Congo and Senegal, respectively, but Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, said "limited progress" has been made in negotiations with other major drug manufacturers that offered in May to reduce prices. The Wall Street Journal reports that Pfizer's move -- coupled with yesterday's release of a UNAIDS report finding that 70% of the world's HIV-infected adults live in sub-Saharan Africa (see story #1) -- is likely to "renew pressure on the drug makers that have yet to finalize their offers made earlier this year." But Piot said that lower drug prices will not "solve" the AIDS problem because "the economics and infrastructure" in targeted African countries are "severely handicapping us in our efforts."
Not Enough, Activists Say
In addition, activists argue that offers such as Pfizer's don't go far enough, and that current efforts amount to little more than a "public-relations ploy that will produce a limited benefit." Mark Heywood, deputy chairman of Treatment Action Campaign, a South Africa-based AIDS activist group, said that Pfizer would probably "impose restrictions" on the donated Diflucan, such as specifying which doctors can prescribe the medication. "Even if the agreement is signed on Dec. 1, it won't result in pills being made available to all," he said (Zimmerman, Wall Street Journal, 11/29). In a conference call yesterday for the groups ACT UP Philadelphia and the Health Gap Coalition, activists preparing for Friday's World AIDS Day criticized drug companies for "fail[ing] to act on their promises" and "block[ing] access to cheaper generic versions of some drugs." But representatives from several drug companies said the companies "have acted in good faith to get the drugs to those who need them most," Newsday reports (Nelson, Newsday, 11/29)."