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ZIMBABWE: State declares emergency, allows use of generics

Photo: IRIN
Access to drugs key to fighting disease
JOHANNESBURG, 28 May 2002 (PlusNews) - Zimbabwe's government has declared a state of emergency over HIV/AIDS and will allow the importation and manufacture of generic drugs, a local state-controlled newspaper reported.

However, Lindy Francis, director of The Centre, an NGO working with people living with AIDS (PWAs) in Harare said that if true, the declaration was "five years too late".

The Herald newspaper reported on Tuesday that, in a notice published in the latest Government Gazette, Minister of Justice Patrick Chinamasa said the emergency order would enable people to have access to the drugs.

"In view of the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS among the population of Zimbabwe, the minister hereby declares an emergency for a period of six months, with effect from the promulgation of this notice for the purpose of enabling the state or a person authorised ... to make or use any patented drug," Chinamasa was quoted as saying.

The paper said the declaration would also allow the "government and other authorised people to import any generic drug used in the treatment of persons suffering from HIV/AIDS or HIV/AIDS-related conditions".

Francis said: "It's five years too late but its something, we've been pressuring government for the last five years to declare a state of emergency and validate the importation of generic drugs and/or licence compulsory local manufacture."

However, the declaration raised more questions than it answered. Said Francis: "The problem is one is not sure who they are expecting to import these drugs. As far as we know the government does not have the money to import.

"Also, what kind of drugs [are to be imported or manufactured]? If they are talking of antiretrovirals it will not even make a dent in the problem."

She said it would make more sense if the government was talking of providing "anti-funguls and multi-vitamins and nutritional supplementation, [drugs] for the treatment of opportunistic infections, drugs such as acyclivir for genital herpes".

Said Francis: "Provision of basic things like anti-histamines for rashes, betadine those kinds of things, basic primary healthcare and continuum of care in terms of opportunistic infections and maintaining health through nutritional supplements ... with that we could treat the whole HIV population."

However, if the declaration only referred to antiretrovirals "only an elite few would have access to them and get the monitoring and support that it needed to take them".

Francis said that despite the uncertainty about the specific intentions of government regarding which generics are to be imported/manufactured, and by whom, the declaration was a milestone.

"Thank God! It's the first time our cabinet has acknowledged the disaster, up until now it has been as if it was not happening in Zimbabwe," Francis said.

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