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Last Updated: Friday, 8 August, 2003, 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK
Activists angry at threat to Aids drug
Activists want the drug to be ring-fenced
Aids activists in South Africa have urged the Medicines Control Council -- the authority which licenses drugs -- not to order the withdrawal of nevirapine, an antiretroviral medicine which can prevent transmission of HIV from mother to child.

Its manufacturer, Boehringer Ingelheim, has until October to satisfy the Council's concerns about the safety of the drug after clinical problems experienced during trials in Uganda.

However, the main conclusion of the Ugandan study was that nevirapine was effective in blocking mother-to-child transmission of HIV.


Nevirapine, which is traded under the name Viramune, is provided free to the South African government by Boehringer, and more than 80,000 women and babies have received the drug.

Boehringer has licensed the local company Aspen Pharmacare to manufacture nevirapine in Africa.

The company is waiting to begin production, and is concerned by the scepticism it is meeting from the South African government.

"I think they've been very cautious," Aspen's chief executive Steven Saad told BBC World Business Report.

"I think they've been concerned that anything they get for free isn't sustainable," he added.

Infected babies

The World Health Organisation supports the use of Viramune for pregnant women.

Last month, South Africa's High Court ordered the government to make Aids drugs available to pregnant women to help prevent the transmission of the virus to their babies.

In the landmark ruling, the court said the government had to provide treatment to all women giving birth in public hospitals, and institute a comprehensive programme to reduce mother-to child transmission nationwide.

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