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Nevirapine controversy - 2002-03-26

In South Africa Monday (3/25), the legal battle over drug treatment for HIV-positive pregnant women took another turn. For the third time, a South African court ordered the government to distribute Nevirapine, a drug that can prevent mother-to-child transmission of the AIDS virus.

The South African government questions the drug’s safety and there are indications it may again challenge the court order. Professor Gerry Coovadia is a top AIDS researcher at the University of Natal and was the chairman of the 13th International AIDS Conference in Durban two years ago.

Professor Coovadia says thousands of lives could be saved with the use of Nevirapine. He says without the drug, a newborn infected with HIV could only expect to live for five years.

He says he never imagined the fight against AIDS would often be a political and legal one. The University of Natal researcher says there's no scientific reason for the government to resist the use of the medicine. Of more concern, he says, is building an infrastructure so the medication could be properly administered.

He says this disease is unlike any other epidemic he’s faced, calling it insidious and destructive. From Durban, He comments on the ongoing legal fight over Nevirapine to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua.