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Gary Younge
Gifts used to lure Aids business

At one pharmacy in Queens Aids patients receive a free fax machine and a $20 travel card each month.

"When they came to my home, I couldn't believe it," Christine Avilas told the New York Post. "I thought [the fax machine] was going to be second hand. But it was a brand new Sharp. I called all my girlfriends and said, 'Guess what, I have a fax machine'."

The owner of Vital Drugs in Flushing Queens insists the fax machines are purely to assist the patients get their prescriptions to the pharmacy in good time and the metrocard is to ensure that they can come and pick it up. "It's a fax terminal which they are only supposed to use so that they can fax us their order," said Malik Nawaz.

Mr Nawaz conceded that a fax terminal is indeed a fax machine and that he makes no checks on how the patients use them.

At the Fair Pharmacy in the Bronx Aids patients get free bleepers when they bring in their prescriptions. The patients are then paged whenever it is time to take their medication. "We also remind their doctors when it is time to renew," said Danny Deng, who works there.

The response of those who work with HIV/Aids patients ranges from the sceptical to the dismissive. "It's all about money," said Rosemary Lopez, associate director of the Aids centre of Queens County.

"The pharmacies all just want to get in on the action because there is a tremendous amount of money in this."

"Ethically the whole thing sounds crazy," said John Wright, a lobbyist for the New York Aids coalition. "Clearly there is not enough monitoring of their business practices."

Bills for retroviral medication can run to between $15,000 (£8,300) and $20,000 a year - a sufficiently large sum for independent pharmacists to offer considerable incentives even if they do not always turn out to be hugely useful.

"Honestly, I haven't used my fax machine yet," said Ms Avilas, 36. "But I've lived with this disease for 10 years and it can get a little depressing.

"I'm not a materialistic person, but if someone can bring you some joy - even material joy - what's wrong with that? At my last pharmacy they gave me a new hair dryer. It was worth $75."

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