Pfizer to Begin Distributing Diflucan to South Africa Within Weeks
Drug maker Pfizer announced yesterday that it will begin distributing its antifungal drug Diflucan free of charge to South African hospitals and clinics "within the next few weeks," the Associated Press reports. The drug, known generically as fluconazole, is used to treat oral candidiasis, a fungal infection of the mouth and throat that occurs in up to 40% of AIDS patients, and cryptococcal meningitis, an infection in the brain that occurs in about 10% of AIDS patients. About 100,000 South Africans suffer from these infections (Associated Press, 2/21). Pfizer last year agreed to donate the drug "[u]nder intense pressure from AIDS activists," but negotiations were not completed until last week, when the South African Ministry of Health approved a tablet form of the drug that is "readily distinguishable from the capsule form ... that is sold throughout the world." The unique tablet form is intended to prevent the free supply from entering the black market, Wall Street Journal reports. South African Ministry of Health spokesperson JoAnne Collinge speculated that the drug would be available in South African hospitals "by the end of March or the first week of April" (Wall Street Journal, 2/21). Pfizer plans to provide free Diflucan until December 2002. Patients who are receiving free drugs for infections at that time will continue to receive the drug free of charge. The program will cost Pfizer an estimated $48.5 million (Association Press, 2/21).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.