Citing Cost and Infrastructure Concerns, South Africa Has ‘No Intention’ of Purchasing ‘Cheap’ Antiretrovirals
Despite the "courtroom victory" last month that opened the door for the South African government to buy "cheap" antiretroviral drugs, Health Minister Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said in an interview with London's Guardian that the government "has no intention" of purchasing the drugs. Instead, the government will "limit itself" to purchasing antibiotics for tuberculosis and other infections that kill HIV-positive individuals, as well as those not infected with the virus. The South African government, despite "pressure" from local and foreign AIDS activists to buy the antiretrovirals, says the treatments are still too expensive and the country lacks the infrastructure to "distribute the drugs safely." Although the pharmaceutical company Cipla has offered to sell the drugs to South Africa for $250 per person a year, Tshabalala-Msimang said that the price is "still to high." She added, "It is $250 times millions of people times the infrastructure that we do not have times the health workers who are not yet trained times prevention measures." However, the advocacy group Treatment Action Campaign is "threatening" to sue the government for failure to provide antiretroviral treatment in order to prevent vertical HIV transmission. In addition, the London-based Anglo American mining company is interested in purchasing the drugs for its workforce and may seek a compulsory license so the drugs could be produced cheaply in South Africa (Boseley, Guardian, 5/14).
Meeting with Industry
In related news, Tshabalala-Msimang met with leaders of five pharmaceutical companies on Friday to discuss the regulations of the Medicines and Related Substances Control Amendment Act, which the companies claimed in court was unconstitutional. While the drug makers dropped their case last month, the two sides agreed to have the companies provide "early comment" on the regulations prior to a three-month public comment period. To "speed up the process," the government and the drug firms will establish a "working group" of representatives from industry and government to foster "interaction ... on areas where there [are] diverging views," Tshabalala-Msimang said. The companies involved in the discussions include Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim, GlaxoSmithKline, Merck and Roche (South African Press Association/BBC Monitoring, 5/14).