Not Your Average Drug Smuggler

Sand dunes on Jekyll Island, Georgia, Jan. 31, 2006
AP (file)
Her name is Janet, and she's a drug smuggler.

The drugs she smuggles combat HIV, the AIDS virus. She's part of an American underground that collects costly drugs left over when patients die or change their medication.

"It's kind of like scrounging but it's better than nothing," she said.

At home she scrapes off the old prescription labels and forges convincing new ones, passing the drugs off as her own.

CBS News Correspondent John Blackstone reports she will take the drugs to South Africa, hoping to save the lives of rape victims exposed to the AIDS virus - most of them children.

"The numbers and the ages of children being raped - the numbers keep increasing and the age keeps decreasing," she said.

An astounding one in nine South Africans is now infected with the AIDS virus. But the kind of treatments pioneered successfully in places like San Francisco have been declared unproven, even dangerous by South Africa's government. Health officials there also worry about approving treatments too expensive to provide to all.

"It is very expensive and as a country, you know with our economy as it is, we really cannot afford it right now," said Edith Harrington, a South African government AIDS official.

With relief, Janet gets her smuggled drugs past South African customs. Her contraband ends up at rural clinics for rape victims.

Barbara Kenyon, the clinic's director, knows value of the life saving gifts.

"I have dealt with more than a dozen children just this year who have died of HIV because they were raped," she said.

Those exposed to the AIDS virus can usually be saved from infection if they receive powerful anti-AIDS drugs within three days, but the government forbids this treatment, costing many children their lives.

"And they don't know why they are dying, that's the sad thing," said Kenyon.

Children are particularly at risk because of a South African myth that sex with a virgin will cure AIDS. Ntombi is 10 years old, raped by a family friend.

Using forbidden AIDS drugs kept hidden inside teddy bears the clinic treated her for a month, Ntombi found out the treatment worked - she tested negative for the AIDS virus.

One success, but with the drug supply so limited there are many more failures.

"The right of a child to medicine, it's a basic human right," said Janet.

Janet will return home to California to collect more AIDS drugs - a few drops in a South African ocean of suffering.