South African refusal of free HIV kits 'ludicrous'

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The Independent Online

The South African government has turned down a gift of one million free HIV-testing kits, rekindling accusations that it is failing to address the country's Aids emergency. Campaigners lobbying to have care and drugs for the country's estimated four million carriers of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that leads to Aids said the government's reasons were grounds for turning down the offer from was "ludicrous".

The South African government has turned down a gift of one million free HIV-testing kits, rekindling accusations that it is failing to address the country's Aids emergency. Campaigners lobbying to have care and drugs for the country's estimated four million carriers of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that leads to Aids said the government's reasons were grounds for turning down the offer from was "ludicrous".

The government, which wants the freedom to import generic Aids drugs and is in a court action with multinational drug companies, has long been averse to gifts from pharmaceutical companies because, it says, these are time-limited and sometimes tied to stringent conditions.

This time, the government turned down the offer from Guardian Scientific Africa because, it said, the US company's Aids kits required refrigeration not often available in rural clinics. It also said accepting the offer, which the company estimates to be worth $6.3m, might compromise tendering procedures. The government recently bought 200,000 HIV-testing kits from Abbott Diagnostics and World Diagnostics.

Zackie Achmat, of the Treatment Action Campaign, said the government's arguments were ludicrous, given that South Africa has a chronic shortage of testing equipment and an ever-growing number of Aids cases.

The court case between the government and the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers' Association will resume next month and is expected to last a year.

Last year, President Thabo Mbeki was sharply criticised around the world for questioning the link between HIV and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (Aids). Southern Africa, and regions of Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa, have HIV infection rates among the highest in the world - up to 25 per cent of the sexually active population.

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