BuaNews, 16 October 2002, Western Cape Welcomes New Move to Access HIV/Aids Drugs

By Veronica Mohapeloa

The Western Cape has welcomed the decision by pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim to grant a South African drug company, Aspen Pharmacare, the right to produce the generic version of its antiretroviral drug Nevirapine.

Aspen Pharmacare on Monday announced that German Boehringer Ingelheim had granted it a voluntary licence to produce, distribute and sell the drug, which prevents HIV transmission from mother to child, locally and export it to 13 other countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.

The drug, which was recently at the centre of the Constitutional Court, is increasingly being used in the country's public health sector to reduce the risk of unborn babies contracting HIV from their infected mothers.

Welcoming this move today, Western Cape Premier Marthinus van Schalkwyk said aggressive strategies and innovative approaches like these, were key to turning the tide in the battle against AIDS.

'This announcement is in line with the province's earlier call on the major pharmaceutical companies to issue voluntary licences and on the private sector to get involved in the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic that is threatening to cripple socio-economic development - not only in South Africa but sub-Saharan Africa as a whole.'

The premier said it had become a global trend for the private sector to get involved in humanitarian assistance, adding partnerships could most effectively mobilise the resources required to adequately respond to the pandemic.

'But we need the rest of the pharmaceutical industry to come aboard as well, in the region described as the epicentre of the AIDS pandemic, and where more than two million people died of the disease last year.'

For this reason, he urged other pharmaceuticals to follow suit in making AIDS drugs more affordable and accessible to those living with the disease.

'It is a fact that besides the money provided by the private sector, pharmaceuticals bring with them innovative approaches and expertise in dealing with the problem of HIV/AIDS.'

While this move is welcomed, the new product will only be on the market once the Medicines Control Council (MCC), which regulates the use of drugs in this country, approves of the generic.

According to news reports, it may take more than a year before it hits the market as it takes some time before the MCC can give a stamp of approval.