South African Government Officials Announce Plan to ‘Look Into’ Providing Antiretrovirals to All HIV-Positive South Africans
South African government officials have announced that they intend to "look into the possibility" of providing antiretroviral drugs to the country's 4.7 million HIV-positive individuals, BMJ reports. The government's announcement, which follows "intense political pressure" from former President Nelson Mandela, represents a major policy change and "creates hope" among HIV-positive individuals and HIV/AIDS activists that such drugs could be made available to all South Africans, regardless of their ability to pay for the drugs (Sidley, BMJ, 10/26). However, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, speaking at a summit of people with HIV/AIDS yesterday, said, "These drugs are at present too costly for universal access," adding that some estimates predict that approximately $695 million would be needed to provide one million HIV-positive with antiretroviral treatment. She said that the government was working to "create the necessary conditions" to allow public hospitals and clinics to safely administer and monitor the drugs (BuaNews/AllAfrica.com, 10/29). President Thabo Mbeki's administration earlier this year resisted a court order to distribute the drug nevirapine to all HIV-positive pregnant women through the public health service due to concerns about the drug's safety and efficacy, but it recently stated that it would move ahead with a nationwide roll out (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/21).
Officials Ask Drug Companies to Help
Aziz Pahad, deputy minister of foreign affairs, has also announced that the South African government plans to "put renewed pressure" on drug companies to help the government distribute antiretrovirals. The government has said that the drugs are "too costly" and are "too difficult to administer" in state clinics (Lamont, Financial Times, 10/29). The South African subsidiary of German pharmaceutical maker Boehringer Ingelheim earlier this month announced that it has granted Aspen Pharmacare, a South African generic drug maker, a "voluntary license" to produce, distribute and sell the antiretroviral drug nevirapine. Aspen, which already has the license to produce generic versions of lamivudine and zidovudine, will manufacture nevirapine locally, and local government institutions will handle distribution of the drug (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/16). However, Pahad called for drug companies to "not just ... talk about the supply of drugs" but to also assist with administering the drugs (Financial Times, 10/29).