South African Government Awards Contracts to Seven Pharmaceutical Companies To Produce Antiretroviral Drugs
South Africa's government on Thursday announced it has awarded three-year contracts to seven pharmaceutical companies to produce antiretroviral drugs for distribution in public health facilities across the country, Reuters reports (Reuters, 3/3). The South African Cabinet in November 2003 approved an HIV/AIDS treatment plan that aims to provide antiretroviral drugs to 1.2 million people -- or about 25% of the country's HIV-positive population -- at low or no cost by 2008. South African President Thabo Mbeki's African National Congress party in 2004 promised that 53,000 HIV-positive people would receive antiretroviral treatment under the program by this month (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 2/18). However, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang last month said that approximately 28,000 to 31,000 people were receiving antiretrovirals from the government (Reuters, 3/3).
South Africa-based Aspen Pharmacare and Cipla-Medpro have been awarded the "lion's share" of the generic antiretroviral orders, and Abbott, Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline and Merck's South African subsidiary MSD have been contracted to provide "substantial quantities" of brand-name drugs that have no generic alternatives, according to South Africa's Business Day (Kahn, Business Day, 3/4). The first drug delivery is expected in six to eight weeks, and the pharmaceutical companies will meet every three months with provincial health officials, according to a statement from South Africa's Department of Health, AFP/Yahoo! News reports (AFP/Yahoo! News, 3/4).
Although most HIV/AIDS advocates "broadly welcomed" the announcement, some advocates expressed concern because the government might have to pay increased costs for the drugs over the next three years, Business Day reports. For example, the price of Aspen's antiretrovirals is fixed for 18 months and then will rise 6%, but there is no fixed price for GSK's zidovudine or MSD's Stocrin, according to Business Day. "It doesn't make sense. Normally you'd expect prices to go down with increased volumes, not the other way round," Mark Heywood, treasurer of South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign, said. TAC Chair Zackie Achmat said the group hopes the "long overdue" contracts will "brin[g] to an end drug shortages and sudden price" increases in the country, Business Day reports (Business Day, 3/4).