South African Government Will Not Succumb to ‘Pressure’ to Provide ‘Highly Toxic’ AIDS Drugs, Spokesperson Says
Pharmaceutical companies, AIDS activists and churches are trying to "force" the South African government to dispense AIDS drugs that are "almost as bad as the illness that they are supposed to alleviate," government spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama said yesterday (Swindells, Reuters, 10/22). In a letter written to the South African newspaper Business Day, Ngonyama states that the South African AIDS group Treatment Action Campaign has filed a lawsuit aimed at forcing the government to provide Boehringer Ingelheim's nevirapine to pregnant HIV-positive women through the public health system (Ngonyama, South African Business Day, 10/22). South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and all nine provincial health ministers named as defendants in the suit have vowed to fight the litigation (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/14). In his letter, Ngonyama states that the South African government is "resisting pressure to provide to all and sundry highly toxic drugs that 'offer no hope of eradicating the virus.'" Noting that antiretrovirals "have side effects almost as bad as the illness that they are supposed to alleviate," he states that the government "will not be stampeded into taking positions that do not improve the health of our people on a sustainable basis." Ngonyama concludes, "Our response to AIDS must be based on scientific truth, not popular beliefs" (South African Business Day, 10/22).
Trouble for Aspen?
Ngoyama's letter comes only a few weeks after GlaxoSmithKline stated that it will grant a license to South African generic drug maker Aspen Pharmacare to produce generic versions of GSK's AZT, 3TC and Combivir. The government's position on AIDS drugs could have implications for the deal, Reuters reports. The success of the agreement "will hinge on whether the government offers a state tender to Aspen for Glaxo's products under license," Reuters reports (Reuters, 10/22).