BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Russian Polish Albanian Greek Czech Ukrainian Serbian Turkish Romanian

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Europe  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Thursday, 3 October, 2002, 13:55 GMT 14:55 UK
Industry tackles Aids drug scandal
African Aids patient
Two thirds of the world's HIV sufferers are African
Pharmaceutical companies are investigating ways of repackaging medicines for Aids patients after a scandal in which cut-price drugs destined for Africa were illegally exported to Europe by criminal gangs.

The victims of this illegal trade are the HIV/AIDS patients of Africa

GlaxoSmithKline spokesman

At least $15m worth of drugs for HIV positive patients - destined for sale at a big discount in west Africa - have recently been found on the European market.

It is believed to be the first case of its kind since drugs companies were persuaded to sell some of their products to poor countries at cost price.

The scandal first came to light in the Netherlands, where officials found that more than 35,000 packets of pills had been re-sold for a massive profit in both the Netherlands and Germany.


Two types of retroviral Aids drugs based on zidovudine (AZT) were involved - both made by the Anglo-American pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) .

AZT pills
Retroviral drugs help patients lead normal lives
BBC World Affairs Correspondent Mark Doyle says the scandal threatens to undermine efforts to establish two different price levels for the developed and developing worlds for Aids drugs.

Drug companies say that if the profitability of their Aids drugs in wealthy markets is damaged by cheap Aids drugs flowing back from Africa, they may reduce research into new therapies.

A GSK spokesman said the company was "extremely saddened" .

"The victims of this illegal trade are the HIV/AidS patients of Africa," he said.

He added that the company remained committed to its scheme of providing lower-priced drugs for the continent, and that it was thinking of clearly marking drugs aimed at Africa so they could not be diverted.

Huge discounts

A spokesman for the Dutch health authorities said the drugs, first produced in France, do not appear to have made it further than west African airports before they were illegally re-diverted to Holland and Germany.

African child
Aids is creating a generation of African orphans
Sources close to the investigation say two men, a German national and a Frenchman, may have been the masterminds of the scheme.

But our correspondent says it seems likely that a larger number of airport and customs officials in Africa and Europe may have been involved.

In the face of huge popular and political pressure, pharmaceutical companies have agreed to sell Aids drugs at cost price in developing countries over the last two years.

The firms offer discounts of up to 90%, compared with the prices paid in developed countries.

About two thirds of the 40 million HIV positive people in the world are Africans.

Raymond Salet, Dutch Health Inspectorate
You could earn millions through this fraud
Chair of GlaxoSmithKline Europe Chris Viehbacher
"This has been an appalling surprise"

Key stories

Case studies




See also:

24 Sep 02 | Africa
30 Jan 02 | Business
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Europe stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |