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Many problems beset healthcare in South Africa. A most frustrating one is the inability of the drug regulator, the Medicines Control Council, to approve medicines in a timely manner. This bureaucratic inertia is denying thousands of South African patients’ ready access to medicines that could cure or manage their symptoms. For cancer and HIV patients, these delays could be fatal. In almost all countries, regulators review new medicines to check they are safe and effective. Because of a regulatory bottleneck, drugs already approved and in use in other countries are being kept from South African patients. Data from the Department of Health shows that it takes on average 37 months for a generic medicine to be approved, and 38 months for an innovative medicine. Only 70% of new medicines targeted for priority fast track review — cancer, HIV, tuberculosis medicines and vaccines — are approved within two years, according to government figures. The official account of the cause for the dela...

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