Nearly $18M in Discounted AIDS Drugs Allocated for Africa Diverted by Wholesalers and Sold on European Market
Nearly $18 million worth of discounted AIDS drugs earmarked for Africa have been intercepted by "profiteer[ing]" wholesalers and diverted back to Europe to be sold at higher prices there, the Washington Post reports. Drug maker GlaxoSmithKline estimates that 28 shipments of Combivir, Epivir and Trizivir were diverted by European wholesalers from Africa to markets in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom between July 2001 and July 2002. The 28 shipments comprised three million doses of the drugs and had an estimated retail value of $18 million; they were intended for distribution in five central African nations. Glaxo and European regulators did not detect the fraud until July 2002, when customs inspectors in Belgium noticed irregularities in a shipment sent from Senegal by a Dutch wholesaler that was passing the drugs to another Dutch wholesaler. The medicines earmarked for Africa did not contain any special markings or packaging to differentiate them from those destined for the European market, meaning that pharmacists may have been unaware that they were purchasing rerouted drugs. None of the African entities slated to receive the drugs complained of not receiving their shipments. Viehbacher noted that the lapse might have been due to problems with inventory control or delays between shipping and billing.
Glaxo To Continue Program
AIDS advocates have previously expressed fears that drug diversion and other fraudulent activities might threaten drug makers' willingness to participate in differential pricing programs. "We've been fighting so hard to get these medicines, and for someone to take them from the hands of people who are dying, to make money for themselves, it's terrible, a scandal," Sarata Ottro Zirignon-Toure, deputy chief of staff to the president of Ivory Coast, said (Washington Post, 10/3). But Glaxo officials said they do not plan to stop making discounted drugs available to developing nations (Reuters, 10/3). Chris Viehbacher, president of pharmaceuticals for Glaxo's European division, said that Glaxo does not plan to discontinue its differential pricing program because the "human need is too big," noting that the company will instead press for tighter border controls and adherence to existing trade regulations. He added that Glaxo will change the packaging of medicines destined for African countries (Washington Post, 10/3). The Dutch Health Supervisory Service has said it will recall 3,600 packets of Combivir and Epivir and will prosecute the individuals involved in the scheme (Dyer, Financial Times, 10/3).