- JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) -
South Africa says AIDS drugs are ineffective and produces side-effects
almost as bad as the disease itself.
The African National Congress (ANC) government on Monday accused an alliance
led by the pharmaceutical industry, and including AIDS activists and churches,
of trying to force it into dispensing harmful antiretroviral drugs.
"Government is resisting pressure to provide to all and sundry highly
toxic drugs that offer no hope of eradicating the virus," ANC spokesman
Smuts Ngonyama said in a letter sent to the country's leading Business
"It will not be stampeded into taking positions that do not improve
the health of our people on a sustainable basis," Ngonyama said, referring
to U.S. research which highlighted the risks of heart disease and cancer
associated with the drugs.
Ngonyama called the side effects "almost as bad as the illness that
they are supposed to alleviate".
But the South African drug industry denied that antiretroviral drugs were
"All medicines, including antiretrovirals, are registered by drug
regulatory bodies around the world as being safe and effective provided
they are used as prescribed under medical supervision because it is found
that the benefits of those drugs far outweigh any potential side effects,"
said Mirryena Deeb, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers
Association of South Africa.
South Africa has balked on cost and safety grounds at the nationwide use
of antiretroviral AIDS drugs, which slow down the duplication of the virus
that leads to full-blown AIDS.
South Africa's AIDS policy has also attracted a whirlwind of criticism
after President Thabo Mbeki questioned the causal link between HIV (Human
Immuno-deficiency Virus) and AIDS.
This is despite South Africa having more people living with HIV-AIDS than
any other country in the world. Five million people -- or one in nine of
the population -- are estimated to be carrying the deadly disease.
The ANC's latest attack on the drug industry came weeks after London-based
GlaxoSmithKline granted a licence to South African generic producer Aspen
Pharmacare to manufacture its AZT, 3TC and Combivir antiretroviral drugs.
But the success of the scheme, which could drastically cut the cost of
these drugs to around 15 rand (1.12 pounds) per pill, will hinge on whether
the government offers a state tender to Aspen for GSK's products under
Ngonyama, questioning the motives of the industry, said German pharmaceutical
giant Boehringer Ingelheim had funded an AIDS activist group that was demanding
the use of antiretrovirals.
The company has previously denied the allegation.
Pretoria is facing a court challenge by the country's leading AIDS group,
the Treatment Action Campaign, for not allowing the drug nevirapine in
state hospitals to reduce the risk of mothers passing the virus to newborns.
A senior health official is being sued in the courts by a six-month-old
baby who contracted HIV from her mother, on the grounds that health workers
failed in their duty to provide proper care.
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