Health24, November 15 2002, Aids drug still free

The Health Ministry and pharmaceutical company Pfizer have signed an agreement to extend the Diflucan Partnership Programme (DPP) indefinitely.

The DPP is a public-private partnership between various governments and Pfizer, which has opened a door to treatment for people living with HIV/Aids.

Through the programme, the Pfizer-manufactured drug Diflucan is being provided free of charge to government hospitals and clinics.

Preventing life-threatening complications

Pfizer South Africa's manager Johan Kearney announced the agreement at a media conference in Sandton, Johannesburg on Thursday.

Diflucan is an anti-fungal drug used to treat two opportunistic infections commonly associated with HIV and Aids - cryptococcal meningitis and oesophageal candidiasis.

These conditions, afflicting the brain and the oesophagus respectively, are capable of causing life-threatening complications for HIV/Aids patients with depleted immune systems.

No time or dollar limit

Pfizer signed the first agreement to provide Diflucan (fluconazole) to people living with HIV/Aids with Health Minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang on December 1, 2000.

Kearney said he was happy that the partnership in the fight against HIV/Aids would continue.

He said the extension would have no dollar or time limit.

Diflucan would be available on the programme for as long as South African patients required it.

Diflucan treatment, he said, brought relief to thousands of South Africans in the public sector that would otherwise not be able to access the medicine.

Ensuring patients' needs met

Present at the news conference was Pfizer JAALA (Japan, Asia, Africa, and Latin America) President Mohand Sidi Said.

He said: "Pfizer has distributed over 1.5 million free doses of Diflucan, processed 50 800 scripts and trained over 10 000 healthcare professionals on the programme, reaching 317 hospitals."

According to Said the DPP had been carefully designed to ensure proper diagnosis, treatment, and patient compliance. The initiative would be monitored regularly to ensure that it successfully met patients' needs and would be continuously evaluated by the Ministries of Health and Pfizer.

Expanding into Africa

Said said Pfizer had already extended DPP to nine other African countries, and further expansion was imminent.

The other countries currently participating in the programme are Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi.

"In these expansion countries there are over 350 operational sites, over one million tablets have been dispensed and over 550 healthcare professionals trained in the diagnosis and management of these fungal infections," said Said.

Extension welcomed by health sector

Tshabalala-Msimang added: "The Diflucan Partnership has grown and developed into a valuable programme. We are pleased that it is being extended in this way.

"The programme has not only benefited South Africans living with Aids, but has also resulted in excellent additional training for our healthcare professionals in the treatment and management of several opportunistic infections."

Advocate Patricia Lambert, legal advisor to the Health Minister and chairwoman of the DPP Ministerial Working Group, said: "The extension of this programme will be welcomed by all the healthcare professionals who are currently involved in it. Since its inception they have worked with enthusiasm and dedication to make the programme the success that it is."

Kearney concluded: "It is testament to the will and dedication of the participating governments concerned that we have been able to launch this programme in Africa.

"Our own minister of health should take a bow because it is through her support of the programme that many doors have opened up for Pfizer in Africa, allowing us to prepare for further African nation launches in the first quarter of 2003." (Sapa)