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Monday, 19 March, 2001, 15:33 GMT
SA rejects HIV test kits
Aids patient
More than 4m South Africans are thought to be HIV positive
The South African Government has turned down the offer of one million free HIV testing kits.

The refusal comes at a time when South African doctors complain of a shortage of testing equipment.

Government's objections
Kits already bought from other companies
Professionals trained in other testing methods
Refigeration facilities not available
The opposition has said that the decision reflects the government's lack of urgency when it comes to Aids, with an estimated 10% of the population HIV positive.

South Africa's Department of Health defended itself by saying that kits had been ordered from elsewhere, and the ones on offer had not been approved for use in South Africa.

Kits ordered

The health department has awarded a contract to two companies, Abbott Diagnostics and World Diagnostics, to supply 200,000 kits a year.

The department said it was concerned that accepting the offer of free kits would affect the commercial contracts it had already entered into.

The offer from American drugs company Guardian Scientific Africa was reported to be worth $6.3m.

Guardian Scientific Africa director Madeline Wasserman said in a local newspaper that: "It's hard to understand why they would buy them from one company and not accept them from us for free."

No facilities

The health department says that health professionals have already been trained in other testing methods, and the kits on offer needed refrigeration, which is not available in many clinics in South Africa.

Ms Wasserman says that the kits have been accepted in 11 other African countries, including Botswana which has the continent's worst HIV infection rate.

This is not the first time that South Africa's HIV policy has been criticised, last year President Thabo Mbeki caused outrage by questioning the link between HIV and Aids.

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See also:

15 Mar 01 | Africa
Analysis: Aids drugs and the law
21 Feb 01 | Business
Glaxo offers cheaper Aids drugs
12 May 00 | Africa
Aids initiative 'no magic cure'
24 Oct 00 | Aids
Aids drugs factfile
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