Cheap Aids drugs diverted

German police said they were investigating several pharmaceutical wholesalers for allegedly diverting cut-price anti-retroviral drugs from South Africa to Germany.

Pharmaceuticals offer the costly drugs at hefty subsidies to HIV-infected people in South Africa, while charging those in Europe and North America higher prices to recover their costs.

Germany's Aids aid Society denounced the trade, saying it may have deprived South Africans of life-saving medicine. Holger Wicht, a spokesman, said he worried that it undermined the whole system of discounts for the poor.

Police say they tracked down two shipments in 2009 of Norvir pills via Switzerland, Belgium and Britain to one German wholesaler. The 300 boxes of the patent medicine were put into German-language packaging and sold.

A wholesaler based east of Hamburg may face charges of drug faking because it was not licenced to repackage the imports for Germany. Guenter Moeller, a prosecutor, said the drugs were valued at 230,000 Euros (about R2.23 million).

Manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) said in Munich it first learned in August 2009 that its product was being offered in apparently faked packaging in Germany.

(Sapa, Martina Scheffler and Sebastian Raabe, February 2011)

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