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Contaminated, fake AIDS drugs flood black market in

Contaminated, fake AIDS drugs flood black market in

AIDS drugs, some of them contaminated, diluted, or faked, are being sold at flea markets and hairdressing salons in the face of growing shortages in clinics linked to Zimbabwe's economic crisis, the health ministry said.

State media quoted Minister of Health David Parirenyatwa on Monday appealing to people living with HIV or AIDS to buy their medicines from registered pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals only.

''These fake drugs increase chances of one becoming resistant to treatment, and it becomes even more expensive for that person to remain on treatment,'' he was quoted as saying by the official Herald newspaper, which said that the ''prohibitive'' cost of antiretroviral drugs at private pharmacies had fueled the illegal market.

State radio said that the illegal medications were either adulterated with other substances or useless fakes.

About 50,000 HIV-infected patients are receiving free medication from government hospitals in a nation where an estimated 3,000 people die a week from AIDS-related conditions. The Herald said 300,000 more are in urgent need of treatment.

Since a government edict in June to slash prices of all goods and services by about half, pharmacies say many medicines have been scarce. The price cuts were ordered in an effort to tame the world's highest official inflation of 7,634%. Independent estimates put real inflation closer to 25,000% and the International Monetary Fund forecasts it reaching 100,000% by the end of the year.

Local manufacturers of anti-HIV drugs have failed to obtain enough imported raw materials, which must be paid for in scarce hard currency.

The local generic drug costs about 5 million Zimbabwe dollars for a month's supply, far out of the reach of most impoverished Zimbabweans. A teacher in a top government high school earns about 3 million Zimbabwe dollars a month. Where formal unemployment is 80%, an unskilled general hand earns half that amount.

At the dominant black market exchange rate of 250,000-1, 5 million Zimbabwe dollars worth of medication is the equivalent of US$20 compared to US$165 at the official exchange rate of 30,000 to 1.

AIDS support groups say patients receiving antiretroviral treatment live in constant fear of not being able to find or pay for their monthly medication. Imported drugs cost up to double the local makes.

Interruptions in treatment, along with poor nutrition, quickly render sufferers vulnerable to tuberculosis and other often fatal infections, according to support groups.

Most basic foods have disappeared from the shelves since the government's prices edit June 26. The corn meal staple, meat, bread, milk, sugar, eggs, and even soap and tea fetch 10 times the government's fixed price if found on the illegal black market.

Bread shortages worsened Monday across the country after the two main bakery chains said they were down to their last emergency reserves of flour.

One main Harare baking factory sent home hundreds of workers on indefinite leave on Friday.

The government has raised its price freeze across the board upward by 20%, but businesses say they are still being told to sell goods at below production costs. (AP)

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