Independant On-line, Aids drug prices to be challenged, 29 July 2004

By Patrick Leeman and Jo-Anne Smetherham

The Competition Tribunal in South Africa has agreed to hear a complaint filed by individual South Africans and the Los Angeles-based Aids Healthcare Foundation against British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline for "illegally and excessively" priced Aids drugs.

The foundation maintained in papers before the tribunal that the excessive prices of the drugs were in violation of the South African Competition Act.

The tribunal has issued an order granting the foundation and the complainants permission to file a complaint within 20 days. The tribunal has also ordered GSK to pay the costs incurred by the foundation.

'We are progressing well with the terms of this settlement'
In a statement, foundation president Michael Weinstein said if GSK's drug prices were illegally high, as he believed they were, then this was a scandal of the highest order.

The foundation is a non-governmental organisation which runs a free Aids treatment centre in Umlazi. The centre is a joint effort with the Network of Aids Communities of South Africa (NetCom).

Swazi Hlubi, the executive director of NetCom, said on Wednesday that there were 1 500 people on the clinic's waiting list.

If prices were lower, the medical facility could have treated all those people by now, she said.

A statement from GSK said it was "disappointed" with the decision of the tribunal and believed that the recent application was "unfounded".

'South Africa is a laughing stock'
The company said that a similar complaint by the Treatment Action Campaign and others against GSK in December last year had been settled with the approval of the Competition Commission.

"We are progressing well with the terms of this settlement," the firm said.

"We have granted two voluntary licences for the manufacture and supply of generic versions of GSK retrovirals in South Africa and continue to make progress towards further agreements."

The company said it would investigate the possibility of an appeal against the tribunal's ruling.

Meanwhile, Aids activist leader Zackie Achmat has thrown down the gauntlet to the government: choose between Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who made a "laughing stock" of South Africa at the Bangkok International Aids conference, or world support over HIV and Aids.

In an impassioned speech organised by the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town, Achmat said on Wednesday that the health minister's questioning of nevirapine at the conference had been "a sideshow" and "a tragedy".

"South Africa is a laughing stock - not only the health minister, all of us are," he said.

And in Durban this week, Brad Mears, the director of the South African Business Coalition Against HIV and Aids, said some consultants providing advice to companies on their HIV and Aids policies for employees were guilty of "misuse and abuse".

He was speaking at an Aids forum organised by the Medical Research Council.

Mears said that a number of companies' actions had not been successful because the companies had not been given the best advice.

He said the business coalition was developing a code of conduct to prevent bad advice.

This article was originally published on page 6 of The Mercury on July 29, 2004





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