Pfizer to Provide South Africa with Free Diflucan for Two Years
In an "unprecedented" move, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer on Friday signed a deal with South Africa to provide free the antifungal medication Diflucan for a two-year period, Reuters reports. Used to treat cryptococcal meningitis and esophageal candidiasis, both common infections in people with AIDS, the drug will be offered to those enrolled in the country's public health system. Pfizer, which is negotiating similar deals with other African nations, said that the agreement, eight months in the making, was worth about $50 million. The South African government previously had rejected offers of free or reduced-price drugs, saying that it lacked the "support facilities to properly administer" them to the public. Once Pfizer's drugs are in the public health system, South Africa will allow a generic form of Diflucan, biozole, to be imported. At the deal's signing ceremony, South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said, "Government will do everything in its powers to exercise its stewardship role where it deems that the pursuit of profits is undermining public health needs. I believe that this agreement ... can serve as a model for similar agreements." Tshabalala-Msimang added, "We support generic substitution, compulsory licensing, parallel importing, strengthening of production capacity because these strategies are critical in achieving the goal of access to affordable drugs." Pfizer President Henry McKinnell said, "The South African Diflucan Partnership Program is an excellent example of our industry providing its innovative and often lifesaving medicines to those most in need" (Swindells, Reuters, 12/1).
Nevirapine for Pregnant Women?
The South African government also announced last week that nevirapine, used to prevent mother-to-infant HIV transmission, would "soon" be available to pregnant women, the New York Times reports. Although details regarding distribution of the drug were "sketchy," AIDS prevention advocates and experts "welcomed" the announcement (Swarns, New York Times, 12/2). In an interview with Health-E, an online health news service, Dr. Nono Simelela, chief director of the national HIV/AIDS directorate, said that providing nevirapine to pregnant women was "the easy part," but that the government wants to ensure that infants are protected from HIV infection through the use of the drug and do not become infected through breastfeeding. "Even providing the infant formula might not be the answer," she said, adding, "We are dealing with very impoverished communities. What stops the poor woman from giving other babies in the house the formula or even diluting it?" She said that the government was reviewing research to see if a policy on exclusive breastfeeding would be "feasible." It will be at least another year before a final decision on whether to provide free nevirapine is made, after all of the country's provinces have "administered the drug at two local sites and assessed the infrastructure needs and costs of the program," according to Health-E (Cullinan, Health-E, 11/30).