News 24, Aids group demands cheap drug, 20 August 2004

Johannesburg - The US' biggest Aids group, Aids Healthcare Foundation (AHF), has called on British drug company GlaxoSmithKline to lower the price of the Aids drug Combivir to R7 (US$1) a month immediately.

The group and others have, meanwhile lodged a complaint referral with the competition tribunal against GlaxoSmithKline over what they call excessive prices being charged by the group in South Africa for anti-retrovirals.

The proposed price reduction will give "thousands and thousands of South Africans living with HIV/Aids finally access to the life-saving medicines that have been out of reach to so many for so long", AHF said.

In its complaint to the tribunal, AHF and others allege that GSK has charged excessive prices for Aids drugs to the detriment of South Africans with HIV/Aids and in violation of the Competition Act.

AHF President Michael Weinstein said: "We have had to turn people away from our clinic because we simply don't have the funds to treat all the people who need treatment. Patients on our waiting list have died waiting for us to be able to treat them. If the price of GSK's Aids drugs had been lower, we might have been able to save their lives."

AHF is a non-governmental organisation that operates a free Aids treatment clinic in Durban in collaboration with the Network of Aids Communities South Africa (NetCOM).

The referral of the complaint to the tribunal is the latest step in an ongoing case. The complaint was originally filed with the competition commission in January 2003.

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) had lodged a similar complaint with the competition commission against GlaxoSmithKline during 2002. The commission initially decided to refer that complaint, as well as the AHF complaint, to the competition tribunal.

During December 2003, TAC and GlaxoSmithKline concluded a settlement endorsed by the commission. However, AHF was not a party to that settlement.

In an order dated July 23, the competition tribunal agreed to hear the complaint, which was filed by individual South Africans and AHF. The tribunal also ordered GlaxoSmithKline to pay AHF's legal costs in the matter.

On Thursday, AHF lodged its complaint referral with the competition tribunal. GlaxoSmithKline will now have 20 business days after being served with the complaint referral to file its answer; whereafter AHF will have 15 business days within which to reply to such an answer.

The complainants assert that these illegally high prices have created barriers to access and treatment for tens of thousands of South Africans, needlessly preventing them from receiving treatment and resulting in sickness and death.




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