GlaxoSmithKline to stand trial on AIDS drugs

The Competition Tribunal of South Africa agreed late last week to hear the complaint filed by individual South Africans and AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a nongovernmental organization that operates a free AIDS treatment clinic in Durban, that British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline illegally excessively priced AIDS drugs in violation of the South African Competition Act.

According to an Order issued by the Tribunal, permission was granted to AHF and the Complainants to file a Complaint within twenty days. The Tribunal also ordered GSK to pay AHF's legal costs in the matter.

The complainants assert that these illegally high prices have created barriers to access and treatment for tens of thousands of South Africans, needlessly preventing them from receiving treatment and resulting in sickness and death.

"We are pleased that GSK's actions, and the harm they have caused, will see the light of day," said Michael Weinstein, AHF's President. "We have had to turn people away from our clinic because we simply don't have the funds to treat all the people who need treatment. Patients on our waiting list have died waiting for us to be able to treat them. If the price of AIDS drugs had been lower, we might have been able to save their lives. If GSK's drug prices are illegally high, as we believe they are, this is a scandal of the highest order." AHF's program is a collaborative effort between AHF and the Network of AIDS Communities South Africa - NetCOM - a non-governmental organization based in Durban.

In December 2003, GSK settled a similar Complaint brought by other persons and groups, including the Treatment Action Campaign. However, the Complainants in this case were not invited to participate in the settlement discussions, nor were they included in the settlement. "The voices of the Complainants and the patients AHF treats were not heard in the other case, and were not included in the settlement. Now, they will be heard," said AHF's Weinstein.

The case name is In The Matter Between Mpho Makhathnini, Nelislwe Mthethwa, Musa Msomi, Elijah Paul Musoke, Tom Myers, AIDS Healthcare Foundation Limited, and GlaxoSmithKline (Pty) Ltd, Glaxo Group Limited, Case Number 34/CR/Apr04.

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