Vidyya Medical News Service
Volume 6 Issue 108 Published - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 17-Apr-2004 Next Update - 14:00 UTC 08:00 EST 18-Apr-2004
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Black market AIDS drugs proliferate in Africa

Desperate HIV-positive Africans are increasingly turning to the black market for AIDS medicines and healing remedies, often endangering their lives by taking toxic or ineffective drugs, according to a report by Germany's Der Spiegel magazine.

The black market often offers more drugs than most pharmacies, from cocktails such as Triomune 40 or Combivir to antiretrovirals such as Videx, Okamune or Zerit.  Even though the packets are not always labeled and vendors cannot offer information about dosage, many patients find that buying drugs on the black market provides a hassle-free alternative with no prescriptions needed, no waiting time and no registration.

Many of the drugs have been stolen from hospitals or manufacturers or obtained through "dubious imports," mostly from Asia, and some even come from the back rooms of charlatan doctors' offices.

For the more than 25 million sub-Saharan Africans infected with HIV, "The problem is the desperation," said AIDS doctor Ashraf Grimwood in the South African city of Cape Town.

Crooked medicine men with bogus remedies also abound on the continent.  One such "wonder doctor," Siphiwe Hadabe, who in the past year was finally arrested by South African police, had extolled in South Africa's doctors' offices and in newspapers his AIDS therapy, which included putting patients in glass coffins to be cured for about $4,763.

"The papers are full of these stories," Grimwood lamented.  "One promises snake oil as a remedy, the next 'African potatoes' prepared with olive oil and garlic."

In Swaziland, where 38.6 percent of pregnant women are infected with the virus, hysteria has set in, Der Spiegel says, and in the capital, Mbabane, so-called "Oxycel" drops that are believed to cure AIDS are being administered in the streets (Thilo Thielke, Der Spiegel, April 13, U.N. Wire translation).

Some Rally For Senegalese Politician Who Re-Exported AIDS Drugs To Europe

A Senegalese politician, who is in prison awaiting trial for re-exporting to Europe subsidized antiretroviral drugs intended for poor Africans, is gaining support from Islamic and human rights groups who say his detention is unlawful, especially since his crime — evasion of customs duties — is normally punishable by a fine.

Abdou Latif Gueye, the former president of the international charity Afrique Aide l'Afrique (AAA), was arrested last January for buying subsidized AIDS drugs from such manufacturers as GlaxoSmithKline and then re-exporting them at a profit.

Among those calling for his release are the Collective of Islamic Associations of Senegal and RADDHO, a Senegalese-based human rights organization, and his supporters believe "a political plot" to keep him in prison is at play, even though Gueye suffers from high blood pressure and heart problems, which led to his transfer to a hospital in the capital Dakar on March 31.

Although Gueye, who is also the leader of a small political party, the Rally for Social Democracy, admitted at his first court appearance that he had resold some GlaxoSmithKline drugs at a profit, he argued that the proceeds had been reinvested into AAA and other charities.  His lawyers argue that he had a government certificate allowing him to import the goods duty free.

Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who once supported and promoted Gueye, has expressed disappointment in him.  "I feel very let down because this institution (AAA) formed part of a series of initiatives from which I was expecting great things," Wade said last October.  "Abdou Latif was implicated in an antiretroviral scam.  It is a shame because those medicines were destined for Africans living with AIDS" (Integrated Regional Information Networks, April 13).

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