Stolen AIDS drugs in South Africa

The World

The entrance to this AIDS clinic in Johannesburg is not visible from street level and that’s deliberate. HIV still carries a stigma here so patients are grateful to get their drugs without anyone knowing they’re sick. Efavirenz helps keep this woman alive, but for others this is the stuff that nightmares are literally made of. Efavirenz gives them bad dreams. Efavirenz’s scary side effects happen in only some patients and usually only for a few weeks, but it does have hallucinogenic properties and those have made Efavirenz a drug of choice for young people looking to get high. This doctor says young people have started stealing the drug. This reporter has seen boys as young as 15 smoking the drug. The reporter says the young boys tell her the drug makes them relaxed. The boys told her they buy the drug from health workers or AIDS patients. This doctor worries about the fallout, which she says could allow the AIDS virus to develop resistance to the drug. No one seems to know just how widespread the problem is but this researcher says some people are getting high on the drug and them having unprotected sex, convinced the drug will protect them. He’s angry that the government isn’t doing more to track the abuse and the abusers. An estimated 5 million HIV positive people live in South Africa and doctors have struggled for years to get them on a regimented drug therapy program. Now, as a new Health Minister signals a new willingness to stand with the medical community, this serves as a new threat that could do even more damage to the nation’s ability to fight AIDS.

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