The South African government on Friday bowed to years of public pressure and announced it would soon implement a plan to provide antiretroviral medications to the nation's estimated 5 million HIV-positive people, BBC News reports. The announcement came after a cabinet meeting focusing on the issue of AIDS treatment and in the wake of a report prepared by the health department and treasury that found that a large-scale treatment program would be affordable. "Government shares the impatience of many South Africans on the need to strengthen the nation's armory in the fight against AIDS," cabinet members said in a statement. "Cabinet will therefore ensure that the remaining challenges are addressed with urgency and that the final product guarantees a program that is effective and sustainable."
Activists in the AIDS-ravaged nation hailed the decision but said they hope the government will move as quickly as possible to set up the program and begin distributing anti-HIV medications throughout the country. "We will wait to see the actual operational plan before celebration," said Zackie Achmat, head of the activist group Treatment Action Campaign. "But for all of us living with HIV in South Africa and our families, this is the first sign of hope."
In related news, South African pharmaceutical company Aspen Pharmacare announced Wednesday it had begun producing the first cheap, generic copies of a major anti-HIV drug in Africa and was working on versions of several more HIV antiretrovirals. The company announced that it had begun making the drug Aspen-Stavudine, its version of Bristol-Myers Squibb's Zerit (d4T), and that the medication would be immediately available to all South Africans who need it. Under the terms of Aspen's licensing agreement with Bristol-Myers Squibb, it can sell its version of the drug to both public and private patients across Africa. A month's supply of the drug ranges from about U.S. $3 to $4.50, depending on the dosage. Aspen is also in the process of developing generic versions of several other AIDS drugs, including GlaxoSmithKline's Combivir, 3TC, and AZT as well as Boehringer Ingelheim's Viramune. The company hopes to be able to offer triple-combination therapy for about $1 per day.