updated 9/11/2007 6:33:07 AM ET 2007-09-11T10:33:07

AIDS drugs — some of them contaminated, diluted or faked — are being sold at flea markets and hairdressing salons in the face of growing shortages in clinics linked to Zimbabwe’s economic crisis, the health ministry said Monday.

State media quoted Minister of Health David Parirenyatwa appealing to people living with HIV/AIDS to buy their medicines from registered pharmacies, clinics and hospitals only.

“These fake drugs increase chances of one becoming resistant to treatment and it becomes even more expensive for that person to remain on treatment,” he was quoted as saying by the official Herald newspaper, which said that the “prohibitive” cost of antiretroviral drugs at private pharmacies had fueled the illegal market.

State radio said that the illegal medications were either adulterated with other substances or useless fakes.

300,000 urgently need treatment
About 50,000 HIV-infected patients are receiving free medication from government hospitals in a nation where an estimated 3,000 people die a week from AIDS-related conditions. The Herald said 300,000 more are in urgent need of treatment.

Local manufacturers of HIV/AIDS drugs have failed to obtain enough imported raw materials, which must be paid for in scarce hard currency. Imported drugs cost up to double the local makes.

Pharmacies say many medicines have been scarce since a government edict in June to slash prices of all goods and services by about half.

The price cuts were ordered in an effort to tame the world’s highest official inflation of 7,634 percent. Independent estimates put real inflation closer to 25,000 percent and the International Monetary Fund forecasts it reaching 100,000 percent by the end of the year.

Critics blame the meltdown on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s program of seizing white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to blacks, which began in 2000 and disrupted the agriculture-based economy.

Sanctions blamed
Mugabe has blamed Western sanctions for the economic problems crippling his country, a former breadbasket in the region.

Most basic foods have disappeared from the shelves since the government’s prices edict June 26. The corn meal staple, meat, bread, milk, sugar, eggs and even soap and tea fetch 10 times the government’s fixed price if found on the illegal black market.

Bread shortages worsened Monday across the country after the two main bakery chains said they were down to their last emergency reserves of flour. One main Harare baking factory sent home hundreds of workers on indefinite leave on Friday.

The government has raised its price freeze across the board upward by 20 percent, but businesses say they are still being told to sell goods at below production costs.

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