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Monday, 3 April, 2000, 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK
Free drugs for South African HIV patients
Aids is rife in South Africa
An international pharmaceutical company has offered the South African government free drugs in an attempt to combat the growing HIV crisis in the country.

The US-based firm Pfizer made the decision after heavy lobbying from Aids activists in South Africa who are concerned about the rapidly escalating number of people being infected by HIV.

The move is unprecedented and Aids campaigners have called on other international drugs companies to follow suit.

Pfizer will to distribute the drug Diflucan free to HIV patients suffering from cryptococcal meningitis.

Under normal circumstances, treatment with the drug would cost around fifteen dollars a day - without it, most patients would die.

It is estimated that around 400,000 people with HIV in South Africa go on to contract cryptococcal meningitis, a serious infection of the brain, every year.

Daily treatment with Diflucan turns what would be a terminal disease into a chronic but treatable illness.

Pfizer says it has requested a meeting with the Ministry of Health in South Africa to seek their collaboration in a programme to deliver the drug free to patients who would not normally be able to afford such treatment.

A company statement read: "(An) appropriate response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic must be made with consideration for safe, ethical treatment, in full coordination with the South African government, and through appropriate medical infrastructure."

So far, the government has resisted making drugs used for the treatment of HIV and Aids available on prescription, claiming they are either too expensive or potentially dangerous to people's health.

Aids campaigners say this latest development regarding Pfizer will increase pressure on both the government and other drugs companies which have so far ignored calls for a dramatic reduction in the price of their products.

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23 Nov 99 | Health
HIV hits 50 million
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