Ridgefield, Conn.-based drug maker Boehringer Ingelheim announced Monday it will allow a South African generic drug manufacturer to produce and sell the crucial AIDS drug nevirapine. The US company said it had given Aspen Pharmacare a license to produce the drug for use in South Africa's public health system as a gesture to show its commitment to fighting AIDS. Under the agreement, Aspen will also be allowed to export the medicine to the 13 other countries in the Southern African Development Community. A single dose of nevirapine given to an infected woman during labor and another dose given to her newborn baby can reduce the chances of the baby's contracting HIV by up to 50 percent. South Africa's Constitutional Court had ordered the government to make nevirapine available to HIV-positive pregnant women through the public health system. An estimated 4.7 million South Africans, or 11 percent of the population, are HIV-infected. In addition to its use for mothers and babies, nevirapine is also commonly used in combination with other AIDS drugs for the long-term treatment of patients.
In recent years, international pharmaceutical manufacturers have come under strong pressure to reduce the price of their AIDS drugs in the developing world. Bristol-Myers Squibb and GlaxoSmithKline have recently agreed to let Aspen manufacture their AIDS medications for use in the public health system. The government had said it cannot afford to provide the drugs to South Africans; but last week, the Cabinet seemed to soften its stance, saying it was researching ways to provide the medicine.
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