- The Washington Times - Monday, December 30, 2002

LONDON Medicines provided cheaply to treat AIDS patients in Africa are being smuggled back into Britain and sold for profit on the black market.
The police believe that African officials are making tens of millions of dollars a year selling drugs, which had been shipped to Africa at drastically reduced prices. The medicine can fetch a huge premium in mainland Europe.
British investigators have smashed one smuggling ring in Senegal, West Africa, where a government-appointed official sold $18 million worth of AIDS drugs to pharmacists in Europe. Another smuggling ring in South Africa is being investigated by Interpol, the international police service.
The discovery is an embarrassment to ministers in Britain, who have placed enormous pressure on pharmaceutical companies to provide AIDS drugs to Africa for no profit.
The ministerial pressure culminated in November when Prime Minister Tony Blair pushed through a two-tier pricing system to ensure the supply of cheap medicines to poorer countries.
As a result, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of AIDS drugs are being sold at cost to Africa, where in some countries as many as one in three adults is infected with HIV. The drugs are supplied on the understanding that they will not be sold for profit in developed nations.
Investigators working for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the British pharmaceuticals giant, discovered in October that millions of dollars worth of one drug, Combivir, sent exclusively for African patients, had been reimported into Europe via France and Belgium.
About 34,410 packs of Combivir were discovered in European ports, along with 8,058 packs of Epivir and 1,100 packs of Trizivir. The drugs inhibit HIV's assault on the immune system.
A box of 60 Combivir tablets sells for about $500 in Britain. Under an agreement with GSK, the drug is sold in Africa at its cost price of about $50 a box, allowing smugglers to sell at a discount in Europe but still make profits of hundreds of dollars on each pack.
Detectives found that drugs returned from Senegal had been sold by Africa Aids Africa (AAA), a Senegalese agency set up by President Abdoulaye Wade and funded by Western governments.
Latife Gueye, the head of AAA, who was appointed by the president, acknowledged selling the drugs to European businessmen. He insisted, however, that he was doing so only because he needed to buy vital equipment. Mr Gueye has since been sacked and is being investigated by police.
"I do not believe that I have done anything morally wrong," he said last week.
Mr. Wade said on Senegalese television that Mr. Gueye had committed serious errors. "This has been a disaster for Senegal's AIDS program," he said.
A spokesman for GSK said that further investigations involving Interpol had since been initiated in other African countries. Detectives also are investigating the discovery of more than $15 million worth of AIDS-related drugs believed to have been smuggled out of South Africa, some of which turned up in London.
Europol, the pan-European police agency, hosted a conference last month in The Hague as part of an attempt to unravel a web of AIDS-drug trafficking in mainland Europe. Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and France all acknowledged the presence of AIDS-related drugs from Africa.

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