JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's top medical body has
approved the use of a combination anti-AIDS
drug which contains the drug AZT, its maker British drug giant
Glaxo Wellcome said on Tuesday.
The approval was the first reaffirmation of the efficacy of AZT
compounds by an official medical body since President Thabo
Mbeki sparked worldwide controversy by questioning the widely
held belief that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes
AIDS and appointing so-called "AIDS dissidents" to his advisory
panel on the disease.
"It's a strong endorsement by a respectable body...The MCC
don't have a problem with the efficacy of the drug. It
invalidates what was said," Dr Peter Moore, Medical Director of
Glaxo Wellcome South Africa, told Reuters.
The regulatory Medicines Control Council (MCC) had approved and
registered the anti-retroviral drug Combivir -- a mix of
zidovudine (AZT) and lamivudine (3TC) -- on November 10 and it
would be available in pharmacies next week, Glaxo said.
Mbeki was caught in a firestorm of international scientific and
diplomatic criticism after casting doubt on AZT and denying it
to pregnant women and rape victims in the financially
over-stretched public health system.
Although South Africa is at the epicenter of the global AIDS
crisis -- 4.2 million or one in 10 South Africans are
HIV-positive -- AZT has been officially available only in the
private sector since its local registration 11 years ago.
Three Years Of Negotiations
Negotiations between South African authorities and Glaxo to
register Combivir, already available throughout Europe and the
United States, took one month short of three years.
Despite the endorsement, AZT will still not be available in the
public sector other than for health workers who are
occupationally at risk of becoming HIV-positive.
Pretoria has extended trials of the drug nevirapine in the
fight against mother-to-child transmission of HIV-AIDS but
envisages a limited role for anti-retrovirals in public health
AZT is currently used by around 3,000 South Africans who are
either HIV-positive, pregnant or health workers since it was
registered in 1989. Business has also moved to offer AZT
despite the government's strong stance against the drug which
emerged as the first anti-AIDS drug when it was approved by the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1987.
The country's largest supermarket chain Pick & Pay last month
offered AZT to its 30,000 employees, the first such move by a
major private South African firm.