Giving It Away

An American Pharmaceutical Giant Offers to Donate an AIDS Drug to South Africa


Pfizer's offer hangs on its ability to negotiate an acceptable program with the South African government, which may prove difficult. In 1998, Glaxo Wellcome offered a 75 percent discount on its drug AZT, which can reduce mother-to-child transmission of HIV. But South Africa has rejected that offer. And recently President Thabo Mbeki's spokesperson, Parks Mankahlana, compared pharmaceutical companies to "the marauders of the military industrial complex," and Mbeki himself, in a letter to a prominent South African doctor last month, defended his decision not to provide AZT to pregnant women by accusing "many people in our country" of sacrificing "all intellectual integrity to act as salespersons of the product of one pharmaceutical company!"

The South African government's stance on AZT has angered and alienated AIDS workers, locking the two sides into an adversarial relationship. But Pfizer's offer could "break the logjam," says Achmat, noting that the health ministry has invited his group to discuss the fluconazole proposal. "We will be working very closely with the department of health," he predicts, "and we will be looking at all drugs, not just this one."

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