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JOHANNESBURG, 1 August 2001 (PlusNews) - CONTENTS: SOUTH AFRICA: State likely to face legal action if AIDS drug is not provided TANZANIA: Company evades drug regulations to test Virodene SWAZILAND: Couples warned of fake HIV negative certificates AFRICA: Former U.S President and US singer team up to fight AIDS in Africa SOUTH AFRICA: State likely to face legal action if AIDS drug is not provided The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and close to 100 paediatricians have asked the health department to make Nevirapine available in all public hospitals for HIV-positive pregnant women, ‘Business Day’ reported on Tuesday. The department has until the end of this week to reply, or it will face legal action, likely to take the form of a Constitutional Court challenge. Many health-care professionals within the health department have been frustrated by the lack of progress in supplying the drug, proven to be cost-effective as a means of reducing the transmission of the virus from mothers to their babies. Many have said that it is political interference “from on high” (a reference to the cabinet and President Thabo Mbeki’s views) which is preventing the supply of the life-saving drug. Nevirapine is an antiretroviral drug which has been found to substantially reduce the chances of passing the HI virus from a pregnant mother to her child. Mark Heywood of the TAC confirmed on Monday that the letter had been sent to the department and that the matter would go to court if a satisfactory answer was not received by Friday. “We have given (the department) 14 days to explain why they are not making Nevirapine available,” Heywood said. Government announced last year it would supply the drug on a trial basis to 18 sites around the country, two per province. Heywood said the drug was registered with the Medicines Control Council, was known to be effective and safe, and there was no reason doctors in the public health system should not give the inexpensive drug to pregnant HIV-positive women. Helen Schneider, director of the health policy unit at Wits University, said there was frustration among health department functionaries throughout the civil service. She said it seemed that health officials want to dispense the drug, but sensitivity to political issues was stopping this. AIDS policy was highly politicised, she said. Schneider said doctors were faced with dying babies, which was a preventable tragedy. TANZANIA: Company evades drug regulations to test Virodene According to the Wall Street Journal, two South Africans whose attempts to test an experimental AIDS drug caused an uproar in 1997, have quietly tested the compound on humans with the help of the Tanzanian police and military. The experimental drug, Virodene P058, has apparently never been tested against AIDS in animals and is vehemently opposed by many mainstream AIDS scientists. Yet its developer, medical technician Michelle Olga Patricia Visser, and her former husband, businessman Jacques Siegfried “Zigi” Visser, have organized three human trials of Virodene in three separate countries, either going around the usual public-health regulatory channels or, in one case, operating where regulatory approval wasn’t required. Mr. Visser said in an interview that he considers proven “antiretroviral” AIDS drugs too toxic. He also doubts whether HIV causes AIDS and even whether the disease is transmitted through sex. Much about Virodene and the Vissers’ latest tests remains unknown. Results of the Tanzanian trial, conducted between September 2000 and March 2001, aren’t complete, say the Vissers and study doctors. The Vissers decline to say who owns the private South African company sponsoring the study, Virodene Pharmaceutical Holdings Ltd. They say they are minority owners, and that Mr. Visser runs the day-to-day business. They also won’t disclose the source of the US $3.5 million to 4 million Mr. Visser says the study has cost, saying backers are concerned about adverse publicity. Andrew Kitua, director general of Tanzania’s National Institute for Medical Research, says the trial didn’t receive proper authorization. But the Vissers maintain their trials have been conducted following the highest international ethical, scientific and safety standards. “We’ve double-dotted every ‘i’ and double-crossed every ‘t’,” Mr. Visser says. The Vissers’ proposal to conduct human trials was rejected by a key Tanzania health agency, the NIMR, which noted “major methodological problems which need rectification.” But, Mr. Visser says, his company had already “contracted with the defense forces to do the trial forus.” The study was conducted in two locations in Dar Es Salaam - a military hospital and a medical clinic that is owned by the country’s inspector general of police, according to study doctors. Mr. Visser said that the trial obtained all necessary authorization, and they obtained approval from international, military and private review boards. He displayed an approval letter written by Aaron Chiduo, who was Tanzania’s minister of health at the time. But Dr. Chiduo says he also instructed the company and army officials to get approval from the NIMR, which is assigned by Tanzania’s parliament to monitor medical research carried out within the country. The researchers did apply for approval to NIMR, but were turned down. SWAZILAND: Couples warned of fake HIV negative certificates The country’s health ministry has advised couples preparing for marriage to make sure that the HIV free certificates thier future spouses provide, are genuine. This announcement was prompted by the recent appearance of fraudulent certificates in Manzini. Dr John Mbambo, Director of Health, told IRIN on Wednesday that this fake certificate scam was affecting the whole HIV prevention and education campaign in the country. He added that the credibility of the public health system was at stake and the ministry was currently investigating and trying to trace the scam. Beatrice Dlamini, National Manager of the AIDS Programme, said that there were only a few non-govermental agencies that conducted HIV testing in the country so it would not take long to discover where the fraudulent certificates came from. According to Dr Mbambo, a church official alerted people to the illegal distribution of HIV free certificates and claimed they were being issud by one of the non-govermental agencies where HIV tests were conducted. AFRICA: Former U.S President and US singer team up to fight AIDS in Africa Former American President Bill Clinton and Grammy-winning record producer and singer Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds are teaming up to fights AIDS in Africa. The International AIDS Trust says Edmonds will go on a fact-finding tour through African communities ravaged by AIDS, and will raise money to fight the disease by staging concerts and producing a CD. Clinton is set to announce a new fund-raising and educational initiative to combat AIDS on the African continent.

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