South Africa Rejects Donation of One Million HIV Test Kits
The South African government has rejected a U.S. drug company's offer to donate one million free HIV test kits, Reuters reports. Guardian Scientific Africa Inc. had offered to provide the government with one million HIV test kits, a donation worth $6.3 million. The test kits are able to detect HIV within five minutes from a single drop of blood, Reuters reports (Reuters, 3/18). The government rejected the offer, however, citing a contract it has made with Abbott Diagnostics and World Diagnostics to purchase 200,000 test kits per year. The South African newspaper Sunday Times reported Sunday that Guardian Scientific was "stunned" by the government's refusal. "It's hard to understand why they would buy them from one company and not accept them from us for free. ... There is nothing required of the government except approval. It's a free donation," Guardian Scientific Africa Director Madeline Wasserman said. Wasserman added that the company has already donated test kits to 11 other African nations, including Nigeria and Botswana (Jordan, Sunday Times, 3/18). The South African Health Department suggested that Guardian instead offer the kits to non-governmental organizations and sent the company a list of NGOs that "fulfill an invaluable role in the areas of prevention and care for HIV/AIDS."
Health Department Cites Previous Agreement
The Health Department said that it had rejected Guardian's offer because it might "infring[e] on the contracts that the department had entered into with Abbott Diagnostics and World Diagnostics." In a statement issued by the department, spokesperson Jo-Anne Collinge said that the "regulatory framework for the public service 'effectively prohibited any donations that could compromise -- or could be perceived to compromise -- fair and impartial tendering for goods and services'" (SAPA/BBC Monitoring, 3/19). A senior official at Abbott, however, said that the company was "unlikely to protest" if the government accepted Guardian's offer, as long as it "honor[ed]" its agreement with Abbott. "If there's a donation of a million free kits you can't really say no thank you," the official added. The Sunday Times reported that Guardian's test kits had been tested by the South African National Institute for Virology, where they were shown to be 99% accurate (Sunday Times, 3/19). However, the health department statement said that while the tests "apparently" received high marks from the institute, "this was not available to the department at the time the donation was offered and there was no indication an evaluation had been done at that point." The health department added that another factor influencing its decision was that Guardian's test kits need to be refrigerated and stored at two degrees to eight degrees Celsius, a temperature that many "peripheral" clinics would be unable to attain, since their facilities lack refrigeration equipment. Finally, the health department said that health personnel were already being trained to administer Abbott's and World's tests, and that the introduction of new tests might be "difficult and potentially confusing" (SAPA/BBC Monitoring, 3/19).
Enthusiasm, Disappointment and Suspicion
South African doctors and advocates had been "enthusiastic" about Guardian's offer. Andrew Grant, superintendent of Bethesda Hospital, said that one million test kits would be "well over a year's supply" (Sunday Times, 3/18). Some expressed disappointment over the government's rejection of the donation. Tony Leon, leader of the opposition party, said, "The only possible reason for declining the offer (of free kits) is that the government is still in denial about the fact that HIV causes AIDS" (Reuters, 3/18). Other health officials were suspicious of Guardian's offer. Dr. Nicholas Crisp, a "top medical academic," said, "There's always a consequence. Maybe I'm being cynical but companies sometimes try and saturate a market with free tests ... then they've captured the market" (Sunday Times, 3/18).