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S. African AIDS Activists Welcome Deal for Low-Price Drugs - 2003-10-24

South Africa's largest AIDS activist group, the Treatment Action Campaign, is welcoming a deal brokered by former President Clinton to supply low-price AIDS drugs to developing countries. But the group is also warning that the deal will not solve all of South Africa's AIDS treatment problems.

The South African government is trying to implement a program to supply the drugs known as anti-retrovirals to all its AIDS sufferers for free. The deal arranged by former President Clinton's charitable foundation will reduce the price of a three-drug "cocktail" to less than 40 cents per person per day, or less than $140 a year. That is about one-third less than the cheapest generic medicines available now, and less than half the cost of the full-price patented versions of the drugs.

Treatment Action Campaign spokeswoman Sipho Mthathi welcomes the drug-price deal, saying it will essentially remove cost as a barrier to obtaining treatment for people with AIDS in South Africa. "The Treatment Action Campaign feels that this is a very positive development," she said, "and it couldn't have happened at a better time in our country, where we are busy trying to decide how to make treatment available to people who will die without it."

Four drug-making companies opened their books to Clinton Foundation experts, who found ways to cut the costs of the AIDS medicines. Three of the companies are in India, and one - Aspen Pharmacare - is South African.

The Clinton deal applies to nine Caribbean countries and four African nations - Mozambique, Tanzania, Rwanda and South Africa. The deal will supply them with cheaper versions of three anti-retroviral drugs that are taken together to fight AIDS. The so-called "triple cocktail" has been proven to prolong the lives of people with the disease.

But Ms. Mthathi of the Treatment Action Campaign warns that there are still several hurdles to get over before the cheaper AIDS drugs make it into South African hospitals and clinics. "We are aware that this isn't going to bring about an instant solution, and that a lot of work will have to be done to actually make this development a reality, and that, through this, people can actually get treatment, because the drugs have to be produced, the combinations," she said. "So, while we welcome the opportunity, we also realize that this doesn't mean that all our problems are solved immediately."

The Treatment Action Campaign is urging the South African government to make the most of the opportunity offered by the deal, to get the drugs past any regulatory barriers and into the health care centers as quickly as possible.