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Pfizer steps up – Free AIDS drugs for South Africa

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In response to aggressive lobbying efforts by AIDS advocacy groups, Pfizer Inc. has announced that it will give away an expensive AIDS drug to poor South Africans – raising hopes that other pharmaceutical companies will follow suit, the Associated Press reports.

The drug, Diflucan, is used to treat a lethal brain infection that occurs in 10 percent of AIDS patients.

Infected individuals must take the medication for the rest of their lives – and at a cost of $15 per day, the drug was inaccessible to the country’s poor, AP says.

Details still were being discussed, and Pfizer is not yet sure how the drug would be supplied or what the cost will be to the company.

Pfizer’s offer raises hopes among advocacy groups that other pharmaceutical groups will offer free or discounted AIDS-related drugs to South Africa’s 4 million infected individuals.

The Treatment Action Campaign – a group that broke into Pfizer’s headquarters last month and demanded a meeting with the company chairman – is targeting Glaxo Wellcome, the maker of AZT, to make the drug available for free. 

The British firm, which has discounted the drug 75 percent in South Africa, says it has no plans to offer AZT for free.

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