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Wednesday, 6 June, 2001, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK
Free drugs for HIV-ravaged countries
Drugs will be distributed free in under-developed countries
A drug to treat people with HIV and Aids is to be made available free of charge in 50 of the world's poorest countries.

The pharmaceutical firm Pfizer confirmed on Wednesday that it would make the drug, Diflucan, available to countries identified by the United Nations as being hardest hit by the virus.

There are about 12 million people with HIV in these countries - approximately one third of cases world-wide.

The initiative has been developed in conjunction with the UN and the World Health Organization.

We will support this initiative for as long as it is needed

Henry McKinnell
It follows a pledge by Pfizer, made last year, to supply the South African government with a free two-year supply of Diflucan.

Effective programme

Pfizer chief executive Henry McKinnell said: "The HIV/AIDS epidemic is a tragedy of unprecedented magnitude.

"There will be no time or dollar limit set to this programme.

"We will support this initiative for as long as it is needed, and we will continue to work with the UN, the WHO and other international organisations to ensure public/private partnerships like the Diflucan programme can be most effective."

Diflucan does not tackle HIV directly, but it has proved highly effective in treating two infections - cryptococcal meningitis and oesophageal candidiasis - that afflict large numbers of people with Aids.

Cryptococcal meningitis is a life-threatening infection of the brain caused by the yeast Cryptococcus neoformans.

It occurs in approximately one in 10 Aids patients in the late stages of the disease. If untreated it will kill more than 90%.

Oesophageal candidiasis is a debilitating fungal infection of the windpipe that frequently prevents patients from swallowing and leads to overall physical deterioration.

It is reported in up to 40% of all patients with HIV/Aids.

South Africa

Diflucan began reaching patients earlier this spring through the South African partnership programme.

To date, 185 institutions in South Africa have begun to distribute the medicine.

Discussions about distributing the drug have now begun with five additional countries: Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia and Swaziland.

Under normal circumstances, treatment with Diflucan would cost around fifteen dollars a day.

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