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Local production of AIDS drugs begins
Saturday 7 May 2005
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ZIMBABWE: Local production of AIDS drugs begins

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

BULAWAYO, 9 June (PLUSNEWS) - Access to anti-AIDS drugs is improving in Zimbabwe, due to recent initiatives to roll-out antiretroviral (ARV) therapy and to manufacture the medicines locally.

A Zimbabwean pharmaceutical company has started manufacturing generic antiretroviral (ARV) drugs in a bid to significantly reduce the cost of the medication for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Tobias Dzangare, chief executive of the local drug manufacturing company Varichem, said his company would produce nine types of generic ARVs in its factory.

The generic drugs will cut the cost of ARVs, which are currently mainly imported from India. A monthly cocktail of ARVs costs Zim $600,000 (US $155) currently. With the manufacture of local generics, the price is expected to drop to between Zim $140,000 (US $27) and Zim $160,000 (US $30) a month.

But even at the reduced price, the drugs remain beyond the reach of most Zimbabweans.

At the launch of the programme on Monday, Dzangare said his company hoped to ensure constant availability of the generic ARVs. He urged government to assist by reducing duties on imported ingredients needed for their manufacture.

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Red Cross Society has announced that it would support the government's ARV rollout by providing nutritional support and education through its existing home-based care programme.

Zimbabwe Red Cross (ZRC) president, Emma Kundishora, said Zimbabwe was one of three countries in southern Africa that had been selected for the pilot programme. She said the ZRC would train its volunteers to educate its home-based care clients on the proper use of ARVs.

The British and Danish Red Cross societies, through the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC), have provided the drugs. Pilot programmes are also being launched in Zambia and Namibia.

Two months ago the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare launched an ARV therapy distribution programme at two of its major hospitals in the capital Harare, and second city Bulawayo.

This week, Health Minister David Parirenyatwa announced that his department would expand the ARV roll-out to other health institutions in a bid to reach more people in need of ARV therapy.

According to the ministry, about 100 patients at Mpilo Hospital, in Bulawayo, and 80 patients at Harare Hospital have been receiving free ARVs since the start of the pilot programme.

Dr Tapiwa Takura, who is in charge of the ARV therapy distribution at Harare Hospital, said officials had so far "screened more than 500 patients for the scheme".

"Those eligible pay a nominal fee of Zim $50,000 [US $9.34] for them to be taken on board," Takura explained.

However, activists in Zimbabwe have called on the government to subsidise the cost of the drugs.

Tendai Westerhof of Prominent People Against AIDS Trust (PPAAT) said: "Government should subsidise the cost of the drugs because the high cost has impoverished people living with AIDS who need a special diet. Many poor people are dying because they cannot even afford to by food for themselves."


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