SA soft on Viagra sales

In South Africa, men are still men and apparently don't need Viagra.

The anti-impotence drug that took the world by storm last year was launched in March - but if the poor sales are anything to go by, South African men are virile studs - or simply too embarrassed to admit their need for the drug.

Pharmacists say Viagra, which comes in packs of four tablets and varies in 25mg, 50mg and 100mg strengths, has been gathering dust on shelves since April.

At R82 for one 50mg tablet, Viagra is out of reach for most people - and most medical aid societies don't pay for it. The 25mg tablet retails for around R69 and the 100mg for R107.

Andrew Oberholzer, spokesperson for Viagra at Pfizer Laboratories, says they are "satisfied" with sales but that there is still a lot of stigma associated with being unable to get an erection. Pfizer is sponsoring an education campaign by the Southern African Sexual Health Association.

Sex therapist Dr Paul says Viagra helps men to be more open about their sexuality.

Dr Paul, director of a group of 50 virility clinics countrywide, attributes the apparent lack of interest in Viagra to patient concerns about side effects and the negative publicity after deaths of patients on Viagra. He has found that patients are trying other treatments, such as the food supplement, Tigra.

Tigra, a non-scheduled medicine, isn't registered with the Medicines Control Council for use in the treatment of erectile dysfunction. Drew Horner, of Prestige Pharma, Tigra's distributor, says Viagra is for cases where there is a more serious underlying medical condition for erectile dysfunction, such as diabetes.

In these pathological cases, Viagra is the first-line treatment. But in cases where men, especially over 40, experience some erectile dysfunction as a result of stress, bad diet or insomnia, Tigra is recommended.

A 10-day course of Tigra (three tablets daily) costs R499.

Groote Schuur Hospital's urology head, Johan Naude, who has conducted Viagra trials, says all patients were very satisfied with Viagra but complained about the cost and had to revert to "other methods".

He says an effective vacuum erection device, which costs a once-off R500, will be imported from the US by the end of the year.