South Africa: AIDS Protestors Picket Pfizer

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa About 100 picketers demonstrated Monday outside the offices of the Pfizer drug company, saying its offer of free treatment for an AIDS-related brain infection was insufficient.

"The offer they are making will not do anything to dent the epidemic," said Mazibuko Jara, spokesman for the HIV-AIDS Treatment Action Campaign, a group that lobbies for cheaper medication to fight the disease.

Demonstrators left after about 90 minutes of peaceful picketing, Jara said. More protests were planned.

Pfizer, a U.S. drug company, offered in April to supply poor South Africans with free medication for cryptococcal meningitis, a lethal brain infection that occurs in roughly one of 10 HIV-patients. Pfizer spokeswoman Thabi Nyide said the firm was currently discussing its offer of free Diflucan with the South African government.

Jara said the group had received confidential information from sources taking part in the negotiations that the patients would receive the drug for only 2 years. That made the offer meaningless, he said.

Nyide would not comment on whether there was a time limit to the offer.

Last month, five other major drug companies said they would work with African governments to slash overall costs of HIV/AIDS drugs by 75 to 80 percent. South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang called that offer a "nonstarter," saying the drugs would still be too expensive.

South Africa has one of the world's highest rates of HIV infection. The government estimates 10 percent of the country's 42 million people are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

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