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Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 17:14 GMT
Kenya pushes for cheap AIDS drugs

The Kenyan government has said it plans to import cheap generic AIDS drugs, despite strong opposition from international pharmaceutical companies.

The Kenyan Health Minister Sam Ongeri said his country couldn't afford to buy AIDS drugs from the main manufacturers and that a law would be passed enabling Kenya to ignore international patents.

He made the announcement at the launch of a new AIDS vaccine trial in Nairobi, based on research in a slum area where a number of prostitutes were found to be immune to the virus despite massive exposure to it.

Leading drugs companies are currently involved in a legal battle in South Africa, trying to get the repeal of a law which allows the import of cheap copies of their AIDS drugs.

The case has been adjourned until next month. Thirty-nine companies, including Glaxo Wellcome, Merck and Roche, say World Trade Organisation rules give them twenty years of protection from imitations, to give them time to recoup the billions of dollars spent on research and development.

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