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AFRO-NETS> Health Ministers vow to provide cheap AIDS drugs

  • Subject: AFRO-NETS> Health Ministers vow to provide cheap AIDS drugs
  • From: Dieter Neuvians MD <neuvians@harare.iafrica.com>
  • Date: Tue, 20 Jun 2000 11:05:58 -0400 (EDT)

Health Ministers vow to provide cheap AIDS drugs

Sunday Times, June 18, 2000
by Laurice Taitz

Health ministers from Southern African countries have set themselves
on a collision course with pharmaceutical manufacturers by announcing
that they will circumvent companies' drug pricing policies and buy
essential HIV/AIDS drugs at the cheapest prices.

The Minister of Health, Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who is also the
co-ordinator of the Southern African Development Council Health Sec-
tor, said at a meeting held in Pretoria yesterday that planned
strategies to improve access included:

* Parallel importation (buying drugs at the cheapest prices available
on the world market);

* Compulsory licensing (whereby governments license local manufactur-
ers to produce patented drugs); and

* Facilitating the immediate availability of generic drugs once a
patent on a medicine has expired.

The decision will strain relations with pharmaceutical manufacturers,
who have challenged the right to use these controversial practices. A
South African law that would allow such strategies is being held up
in court by the S A Pharmaceutical Manufacturer's Association. But
Tshabalala-Msimang said this would not prove a deterrent as a clause
in the law on patents would be used.

The Pretoria meeting between health ministers from the SADC was con-
vened in response to the announcement by five international pharma-
ceutical companies last month of a dialogue they had begun with the
United Nations to explore ways to speed up and improve provision of
HIV/AIDS-related care and treatment in developing countries.

However, the ministers said they were prepared to enter into discus-
sions with the five companies "guided by the fundamental need to ad-
dress the health needs of peoples in the region".


1. A meeting of SADC Health Ministers took place at the Manhattan Ho-
tel, Pretoria, on 17 June 2000.

2. This was a special meeting in response to the announcement made by
five pharmaceutical companies that they woul start a dialogue with
United Nations organisations to explore ways to accelerate and im-
prove the provision of HIV/AIDS related care and treatment in devel-
oping countries.

The meeting aimed at addressing two major challenges:

3. Discussions on TRIPS, with particular emphasis on both possibili-
ties and limitations it presents in meeting the objective of improved

Particular emphasis was placed on discussing such concepts as:

a) Parallel importation of drugs b) Compulsory licensing of drugs c)
the role of the "Bolar" provision (which facilitates the immediate
availability of generic drugs once a patent has expired) being pro-
vided for in the medicines regulation process.

3.1. The meeting concluded that all three instruments would contrib-
ute to the objective of improving access. Consequently, the meeting
stressed the need for pursuing these strategies.

3.2. Ministers reaffirmed the need for them to meet with the SADC In-
dustry and Trade Ministers to ensure that public health objectives
are appropriately considered in the next round of talks that will
follow Seattle.

3.3. Ministers advised that the WHO should be more actively involved
in the WTO negotiations; should promote totally independent research
into pharmaceuticals driven by the public sector, to ensure public
access to the resultant pharmaceuticals; and should draft a model law
that can be used to safeguard compulsory licensing, parallel importa-
tion, local manufacture, and freedom to outsource for drugs necessary
in the public sector.

4. The second objective of the meeting was to review the steps taken
so far or that we still to be taken on the offer from the 5 pharma-
ceutical companies.

4.1. Ministers noted with strong concern that the manner in which the
proposed offer was announced could lead to alienation of governments
from their people, as the public was given the impression that the
prices of anti-retroviral drugs have been drastically reduced and im-
mediately available. Ministers wish to stress that as of now, no con-
crete offer or mechanism to effect such an offer is in place.

4.2. Ministers reaffirmed their preparedness to enter in bonafide
discussions with these companies guided by the fundamental need to
address the health needs of the people of the peoples in the region.
As a critical test, however, any agreement entered into must be sus-

4.3. Ministers reiterated the need to engage in the discussions with
the aim of addressing all elements, such as infrastructure and diag-
nostic services, monitoring and evaluation and capacity building that
would ensure effective delivery of medicines to the majority in de-
veloping countries.

4.4. Ministers further stressed the need for Ministers of developing
countries to take charge of the development of the negotiation proc-

4.5. South Africa, as the coordinator of the SADC Health Sector, was
duly mandated to represent the region in the initial rounds of dis-
cussion and liaise closely with the Ministers of Health of Member
States of SADC.

END -----

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