May 29, 2007 / 11:48 PM / 12 years ago

Brazil plays down Mozambique AIDS drug plant offer

(Recasts with Brazil saying did not offer to fund plant, previously datelined MAPUTO)

RIO DE JANEIRO, May 29 (Reuters) - Brazil has prepared a feasibility study for a pharmaceutical plant in AIDS-ravaged Mozambique but did not offer to fund it, the Brazilian Health Ministry said on Tuesday.

Earlier, Mozambique’s Noticias newspaper said that Brazil offered to build a $23 million factory, which would produce a range of drugs, including generic antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) to treat HIV/AIDS as well as medicines for malaria and other diseases.

But a Brazilian Health Ministry spokeswoman said Brazil had only carried out a feasibility study and would provide the technology, training and quality monitoring for the plant if Mozambique decides to go ahead with the plan.

"Brazil has no commitment to finance the construction," she said, adding that Germany, France and Italy have expressed interest in helping to fund it, but no decision has been taken yet.

The study was presented to the Mozambique government by Brazil’s ambassador in the southern African nation, Leda Lucia Camargo.

Mozambique, one of the poorest nations on the continent, is struggling to find the money to rebuild its dilapidated healthcare system, which was neglected during a 17-year civil war that ended in 1992.

The former Portuguese colony has been hard hit by the AIDS epidemic, with an estimated 1.6 million of its 18 million people infected with HIV. Only a fraction of those requiring ARVs are on treatment, with most of the drugs imported from India.

The offer to study the possibility of building the pharmaceutical plant was first raised by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva during his 2003 visit to Mozambique, the spokeswoman said. Lula said he wanted drugs from the plant to be available to other African nations as well.

Brazil, a major pharmaceuticals producer, claims the use of generic anti-retrovirals has cut its AIDS mortality rate in half.

Mozambican Health Minister Ivo Garrido said the government would decide next month whether to approve the Brazilian plan. "We will have to study it very carefully," he was quoted as saying by Noticias.

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