Reduced-Cost Antiretroviral Drugs Meant for Distribution in African Nations Sold on Black Market in Europe
Antiretroviral drugs obtained at cost from large pharmaceutical companies and meant to be distributed in African nations to HIV-positive patients are being smuggled back into European nations and sold on the black market, London's Sunday Telegraph/Washington Times reports. Police estimate that African officials are making tens of millions of dollars a year by selling the drugs in Europe, where they can "fetch a huge premium." British investigators working for GlaxoSmithKline in October discovered that $18 million worth of shipments of the company's antiretroviral drugs Combivir, Epivir and Trizivir were diverted from Senegal into European markets via France and Belgium. A box of Combivir tablets sells for approximately $500 in Britain and about $50 in Africa, so the smugglers have been able to sell the drugs at a discount in Europe while still making several hundred dollars in profit from each box. Latife Gueye, president of Africa Aids Africa, a Senegalese agency set up by President Abdoulaye Wade and funded by Western governments, admitted to selling the drugs to European businessmen and claimed that the profits were used to purchase "vital equipment," according to the Sunday Telegraph/Washington Times. Gueye has been fired and is being investigated by police. According to a GlaxoSmithKline spokesperson, Interpol is investigating more than $15 million worth of antiretroviral drugs thought to have been smuggled out of South Africa back into Europe. Some of the drugs have been found in London. These discoveries are "an embarrassment to ministers in Britain, who have placed enormous pressure on pharmaceutical companies to provide AIDS drugs to Africa for no profit," including a plan approved in November by Prime Minister Tony Blair for a "two-tier pricing system to ensure the supply of cheap medicines to poorer countries," according to the Sunday Telegraph/Washington Times. Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and France have all acknowledged that there are antiretroviral drugs meant for Africa within their borders (Syal, Sunday Telegraph/Washington Times, 12/30).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.