South Africa ‘Spurned’ AIDS Drug Offers, Drug Makers Say
The pharmaceutical companies that are suing South Africa over its 1997 Medicines Control Act, which would permit the importation and manufacture of cheaper antiretroviral drugs, say government officials "rejected or ignored" their offers to provide cheap or free AIDS drugs, the AP/Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reports. South Africa's rejections of the offers counter the country's claims that it must import cheaper generic versions of the drugs because it cannot afford patented medications, drug makers argue. Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of South Africa Chief Executive Mirryena Deeb was quoted in South Africa's Sunday Independent newspaper as saying in an affidavit filed in the Pretoria High Court Friday, "To the extent that prices of medicines do enter considerations, it is clear they cannot play a significant role because the government declines to use these products, even where they are offered for free." The association said that antiretrovirals were unavailable in the public health system because the government had tried to manage the AIDS epidemic without them. Deeb pointed to unanswered offers made last May by Boehringer Ingelheim, Roche, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck and GlaxoWellcome (now GlaxoSmithKline) to work with African governments to reduce drug prices. In addition, the South African Health Department has not yet responded to Bristol-Myers's offer last month to sell its Videx and Zerit for only $1 per day per patient. "The South African government has not yet even initiated discussions ... to procure the medicines in question at the very substantial savings that the offers entail," Deeb said. But in February, South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang "accused" the companies of not disclosing the prices they would charge. The drug firms have argued that the 1997 act "undermines their patents [and] gives the health minister unfettered power to control the import and pricing structure of medicines and is unconstitutional" (AP/Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 4/1).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.