Anglo American Reportedly Halts Feasibility Study of Project to Deliver Antiretroviral Drugs to African EmployeesAnglo American PLC, a mining conglomerate with 125,000 African employees, will halt a study aimed at assessing the feasibility of providing antiretroviral drugs to its HIV-positive workers, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing sources at the company "familiar with the situation." The London-based company was "widely praised" last year when it announced the plan, which was developed by Anglo's in-house medical officers. The study would have examined whether providing the drugs to all infected employees -- whom the company estimates account for about 20% of its African work force -- was possible given the high cost of the drugs and the "harsh working conditions" in the mines. It also would have considered whether the company could afford to continue to provide drugs even after an employee left the company, among other questions. The Journal reports that the costs and potential political risks associated with the pilot study persuaded Anglo officials to rethink the plan. Anglo had requested that the South African government subsidize part of the treatment costs, but South African officials have opposed widespread provision of antiretroviral drugs.
African HIV/AIDS advocates have "increasingly pinned" their hopes for treatment on private companies, and Anglo's decision to drop the feasibility study could have "wide ramifications for how companies in poor countries handle AIDS," the Journal reports. "This is bad news for the industry and bad news for AIDS in South Africa," Alan Whiteside, an economist at the University of Natal, said, adding, "If Anglo can't do it, who will?" Anglo spokesperson Michael Spicer said the company has "not abandoned the idea of pilot studies" but declined to comment on the reports that the feasibility study had been halted. He added that Anglo is "seeking to progress on a broader basis and we are in discussions to do that." Anglo may present a proposal for an industry-wide study to the executive committee of South Africa's Chamber of Mines, which is expected to meet on Friday, according to one source. Collaboration would mark a turnaround for Anglo, which said last year it was "quite happy to take the lead" in the mining industry on HIV/AIDS issues (Schoofs, Wall Street Journal, 4/16).