South African Woman Sues Drug Firm, Claiming Antiretroviral Caused Husband’s Death
A South African woman is suing Glaxo Wellcome South Africa -- a local subsidiary of drug firm GlaxoSmithKline -- over allegations that the "toxicity" of the company's antiretroviral drug AZT "killed her husband," the Associated Press reports. Annet Hayman said in court papers that her late husband began taking AZT, or zidovudine, and 3TC in 1997, after he learned he was HIV-positive. Hayman said that her husband "was in reasonable health" before taking the drugs, but became "very ill ... as soon as he began treatment." Her lawyers stated that "her husband's HIV-positive status did not mean he had AIDS and that he was suffering from a non-terminal form of anemia," adding that he died "directly as a result of the cellular toxicity of AZT." "[O]ne of the oldest and most established" antiretrovirals, AZT has been known to cause "slight side effects," but its manufacturers "deny it is toxic -- a view backed by most scientists," the Associated Press reports. The lawsuit seeks $125,000 in damages, and Glaxo said it will "defend" itself against the suit.
South African Government Involved in Case
South African President Thabo Mbeki and Health Minister Dr. Manto Tshabalala-Msimang are cited as "interested parties" in the suit, the Associated Press reports. The South African government has "consistently refused" to finance the distribution of antiretroviral drugs, stating that the medicines "are unaffordable and their safety has not yet been proven" (Associated Press, 7/1). When the government released its first draft of South Africa's Medicines and Related Substances Control Act -- which allows the country to import cheaper versions of patented anti-AIDS drugs -- officials stated that the government will likely focus its efforts on importing drugs to treat opportunistic infections, as opposed to more costly antiretrovirals (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/5).