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Last Updated: Monday, 21 February, 2005, 21:09 GMT
GSK aims to stop Aids profiteers
by Dan Isaacs
BBC News

GSK drugs
Drug companies are losing hundreds of millions of dollars

One of the world's largest manufacturers of HIV/Aids drugs has launched an initiative to combat the smuggling of cheaper pills - supplied to poorer African countries - back into Europe for resale at far higher price.

The company, GlaxoSmithKline, is to alter the packaging and change the colour of the pills, currently provided to developing nations under a humanitarian agreement.

It is estimated that drugs companies are losing hundreds of millions of dollars each year as a result of the diversion of their products in this way.

This is a very sensitive area for the big drugs companies.

They want to maintain their profits, but have been put under tremendous pressure to provide cheap anti-Aids drugs to the world's poorest nations.

Illegal diversion

The result is that drugs supplied to Africa are now more than thirty times cheaper than those sold in Europe; bringing these medicines within the reach of millions of HIV-positive Africans through their government's health care systems.

Aids march in South Africa
Big firms were put under pressure to provide cheap Aids drugs

But the wide difference in price also means that there are big gains to be made from illegally diverting these cheaper drugs back into wealthier countries and re-selling them at a higher price.

GlaxoSmithKline believes that by coating the pills destined for Africa in a red dye and adding new identification codes both onto the pills and on the packaging, then this trade can be substantially reduced.

The company says that it will then be possible to identify specific distributors in Africa who have re-sold humanitarian drugs for profit, as well as those suppliers in Europe that have also been involved in the trade.

Glaxo says distribution of the new-look drugs has already begun and that their chemical content is identical to those currently being sold in Europe.

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