News 24, Surge in alternative drugs, 10 September 2004

Johannesburg - The Medicines Control Council (MCC) has received over 13 000 applications for registration from the alternative health industry, Registrar of Medicines Dr Precious Matsoso said on Friday.

Matsoso made the remark after a 10-day World Health Organisation (WHO) training programme to provide technical support to African countries providing antiretroviral treatment (ART) drugs to people with HIV and Aids.

The training also looked at the management and safety of complementary and traditional African medicines in the treatment of HIV and Aids.

Matsoso said trials of complementary medicine would build up a body of knowledge on the safety and efficacy of these drugs.

This comes after the National Assembly approved the Traditional Health Practitioners Bill on Thursday. The bill gives formal recognition to about 200 000 traditional healers.

The legislation will make it illegal for anyone not registered as a traditional healer to offer treatment for HIV and Aids.

Health workers, researchers and government officials from eight African countries took part in the WHO training in pharmacovigilance - or the detection and prevention of adverse drug reactions.

"The roll-out of antiretroviral treatment drugs needs to be accompanied by education," Matsoso told reporters in Johannesburg.

The head of the Copenhagen HIV Programme and a facilitator of the WHO programme, Dr Jens Lundgren, said: "ARTs are one of the most effective therapies in the reduction of mortality by more than 80% ... for more than eight years."

Lundgren said although there was some toxicity associated with ARTs, the benefits of taking them were greater than the risk of ignoring the drugs.

"We have a very good sense of what one can expect from toxicity ... and we are disseminating that knowledge in Africa," he said.

Matsoso said: "One of the many challenges in HIV and Aids treatment is to continually weigh up and balance the known side effects of the medicines with the problems associated with and caused by the disease itself."

Esperanca Sevene from the pharmacovigilance unit in Mozambique explained it was important that African countries also monitor the interaction of ARTS with drugs used to treat other diseases prevalent on the continent, such as malaria.

A Pharmacovigilance Centre opened this week in the Medical University of South Africa in Ga-Rankuwa.

This is in addition to the National Adverse Event Monitoring Centre in Cape Town and the Bloemfontein Pharmacovigilance Centre, which monitors the safety of ARTs for pregnant women, newborn babies and children needing treatment.




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