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AFRO-NETS> Drugs' Giants Drop Case Against South Africa

  • Subject: AFRO-NETS> Drugs' Giants Drop Case Against South Africa
  • From: Holly Ladd <hladd@usa.healthnet.org>
  • Date: Thu, 19 Apr 2001 09:38:20 -0400 (EDT)

Drugs' Giants Drop Case Against South Africa

April 19, 2001
Posted to the web April 19, 2001

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton

39 leading pharmaceutical companies have dropped their court chal-
lenge to prevent the South African government from importing, manu-
facturing or licensing cheap copies of their patented medicines - in-
cluding AIDS' drugs.

This legal landmark could be a breakthrough in getting treatment to
millions of people living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa and other de-
veloping countries.

A lawyer for the drug firms, Fanie Cilliers, told the judge Bernard
Ngoepe and a packed High Court in the capital Pretoria, "There's a
consent of all the parties to simply ask Your Lordship that the ap-
plication has been withdrawn and the applicants have offered to pay
the costs of the respondents".

The South African Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, and doz-
ens of AIDS' activists and other campaigners were present in the
court room which erupted in celebration at the news. Tshabalala-
Msimang later said "This is a victory not just for South Africa, but
for Africa and the whole developing world. I would like to say thank
you to the whole world for supporting us".

The minister also said the government had not agreed to any deals in
exchange for the companies dropping the case. "You can trust the gov-
ernment," said Tshabalala-Msimang.

South Africa has agreed to 'consult' the pharmaceutical firms when
they draft the regulations to implement the 1997 law which was being
challenged in court.

The climbdown by the drug multinationals now places the ball back
firmly in the court of the South African government which has so far
refused to provide antiretroviral treatment to people in the country
living with HIV/AIDS, including pregnant mothers.

The drug companies had criticised the Pretoria government for this
and for rejecting their offers of cheaper medicines - including
HIV/AIDS' treatment. 4.7 million people in South Africa are estimated
to HIV positive or have AIDS - a figure which is reported to be
higher than any country in the world.

The South African authorities will now be under considerable pres-
sure, from the same campaigners who supported them in court against
the drug multinationals, to change their position and start deliver-
ing the treatment which has had success in helping to suppress

The court case sparked controversy in and outside South Africa with
worldwide protests that the pharmaceutical companies were putting
profits before human lives. Shareholders were reported to have con-
tacted the multinationals, urging them to withdraw the lawsuit in
Pretoria and limit the damage of a what is generally considered a
public relations' fiasco and a moral defeat.

The firms had contested a 1997 South African law which would give the
government blanket powers to circumvent expensive patented medicines
and produce or import cheap alternatives to the brand-name drugs.

The argument, by the pharmaceutical companies, that cut-price generic
drugs would reduce their revenues and jeopardize the pioneering of
research for new treatments was comprehensively rejected.

Continuing their court case in Pretoria may have laid the firms open
to inspection of their books and records to prove that their profits
and research would have been affected by the manufacture of cheaper
drugs in South Africa and elsewhere.

Copyright c 2001 allAfrica.com. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media

Holly Ladd
SatelLife, Inc.

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