Dubious diversion

Low-cost hiv drugs for Africa reach Europe instead

Published: Friday 15 November 2002

recent investigations reveal that shipments of discounted hiv drugs, worth us $18 million, intended for African countries were, diverted to Europe and sold at the marked price. Drugs of pharmaceutical giant Glaxo SmithKline Beecham were intercepted by profiteers and sent to markets in Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the uk between July 2001 and July 2002.

As a result of the fraud, nearly a quarter of the anti-retroviral drug Combivir that was meant for African patients did not reach them last year. The drug giant estimates that 28 shipments of the drugs Combivir, Epivir and Trizivir -- comprising three million doses -- were illegally imported. Diverted medicines were intended for use in the Congo Republic, Senegal, Ivory coast, Tongo and Guinea-Bissau, according to European sources. Though the fraud involving Glaxo's products had been going on since July 2001, it went undetected by the drugmaker and the European regulators until this year. The scam came to light only when customs inspectors in Belgium noticed the irregularities in a shipment sent from Senegal by a Dutch wholesaler.

According to Raymond Salet, spokesperson for the Dutch healthcare inspector's office, some of the drugs were shipped from a Glaxo factory in France and sent to Africa. But Salet says the consignment "never made it out of the airport and it was turned back by these wholesalers to Europe". The drugs then entered the regular commerce chain. "As they were identical to their European versions, the pharmacists who bought them could not have detected the difference from their usual orders," adds Salet. The consignments of drugs moved from the five African countries through Paris and Brussels, then into Antwerp, the Belgian city where inspectors noticed the discrepancies.

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