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South Africa awards $667 million HIV drugs supply contract

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa on Thursday awarded a $667 million contract to supply life-prolonging HIV medicine to 12 international and domestic firms, to deal with its biggest health problem.

Companies that include Aspen Pharmacare, Abbott Laboratories and Adcock Ingram would share the contract, the health department said.

The 5.9 billion rand ($667 million) contract, effective from April next year, aims to increase the number of people on treatment by nearly 50 percent, to 2.5 million next year.

South Africa has nearly 6 million people infected with HIV -- one of the heaviest caseloads in the world. It also has one of largest treatment programs.

But drug makers are unlikely to rake in big profits from the government award, analysts have said, given the stiff competition in the bidding.

The health department said it saved 2.2 billion rand on the new contract, which it initially expected it would cost 8.1 billion rand.

Aspen Pharmacare, the country's biggest generic drugs maker, was awarded 20 percent of the contract while its closest domestic rival, Adcock Ingram was given 14 percent, the health department said.

Other contracts winners included Chicago-based Abbott Laboratories with 8.1 percent, and domestic firm Cipla Medpro with 9 percent.

(Reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng; editing by David Dolan)

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