Medecins Sans Frontieres urges drugs giants to drop South Africa suit

The medical humanitarian organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) launched an international petition Friday to urge 39 drugs firms to drop their law suit against South Africa.

The companies, who include Boehringer-Ingelheim, Glaxo Wellcome and Merck and Roche – are challenging a law that will allow South Africa to import and produce cheaper, generic drugs rather than those licensed to the firms.

“This case has struck a chord with people around the world because it exposes the lengths that the industry will go to protect its patents and profits, despite the immense human cost,” said MSF campaign co-ordinator Ellen ‘t Hoen.

The companies launched their suit in 1997 to block a law signed by the then South African President Nelson Mandela to improve access to cheap drugs. The case opened on Monday and was adjourned until April 18.

“There have been demonstrations from Pretoria to New York, from Copenhagen to Manila, demanding access to lifesaving medicines for South Africa. By signing this petition by April 15, individuals around the world can add their voices to the growing chorus of outrage,” ‘t Hoen said.

“In the three years in which the companies have tied up this legislation in the courts, more than 400,000 South Africans have died of HIV/AIDS, almost all of whom lacked access to affordable treatments,” an MSF statement said.

The cost of AIDS drugs will take centre stage in the case as the court has decided to allow activists to make a submission on the plight of those living with the disease who lack access to affordable treatment.

South Africa has the fastest rate of HIV infection in the world and about 10 percent of the adult population, or 4.2 million people, are HIV positive according to UN figures.

Source: Agence France-Presse – March 9, 2001

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