Thousands Sign Global Internet Petition Demanding End to South African Court Case; Bush Administration Called on to Publicly Support Struggle for Affordable Medicines
New York, April 17, 2001 — At a press conference today in Johannesburg, South Africa, the international medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) joined the South African Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and other national and international organizations in condemning the pharmaceutical industry for pursuing a court case blocking legislation aimed at making medicines more affordable in South Africa. MSF also presented the results of a global Internet petition campaign in which 250,000 people from over 130 countries called on the pharmaceutical industry to drop the case.
"From 4,000 inhabitants in the slums of Nairobi to notable figures such as Dr. David Ho, Chinua Achebe, and Whoopi Goldberg, the world is calling on the companies to drop the case," said Eric Goemaere, M.D., director of MSF's HIV/AIDS program in Cape Town, South Africa. "This petition reflects widespread outrage over the hypocrisy of an industry that claims to be fighting AIDS on the one hand, while actively seeking to undermine government efforts towards providing affordable medicines on the other. I challenge the companies to visit South Africa's township clinics to see for themselves the suffering caused by their practice of putting profits before people."
Signed into law by Nelson Mandela in 1997, the Medicines and Related Substances Control Amendment Act, No. 90, is designed to improve access to affordable medicines in South Africa, including those effective against HIV/AIDS, by promoting the use of generic medicines and permitting the parallel importation of cheaper medicines. In the three years that the pharmaceutical industry has tied up the legislation in court, more than 400,000 South Africans have died of HIV/AIDS, nearly all without any access to affordable treatments.
In New York, MSF-USA Executive Director Nicolas de Torrente called on U.S. President George W. Bush publicly state his support for South Africa's struggle to improve access to affordable medicines. "The European Parliament, former South African President Nelson Mandela, and a quarter of a million individuals around the world have called on the companies to drop the court case, but the Bush administration has been alarmingly silent on the issue. We urge President Bush to express publicly and unequivocally U.S. support for South Africa's right to use legal measures that comply with international trade agreements to improve access to medicines for its citizens."
TAC which was accepted as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the landmark case, today presented data demonstrating the devastating impact that the high price of medicines is having on South Africa, where more than 4.7 million people are infected with HIV. Over the past year, 250,000 people have died of AIDS related illnesses in South Africa. In the six weeks that the court postponed the case to allow the Pharmaceutical Manufacturer's Association to provide evidence defending their high prices, 30,000 more people have died of AIDS-related causes, the vast majority of whom did not have access to life-saving medicines.
"The exorbitant prices of medicines in South Africa cannot be justified by the need to finance research and development (R&D), given that Africa comprises only 1% of global pharmaceutical sales," said Zackie Achmat of TAC. "The truth is that public - not only pharmaceutical industry - money has paid for a significant part of the R&D of HIV medicines. The patents for important antiretrovirals such as d4T, ddI, and ddC are held by the US government or academic institutions." Furthermore, the private sector is investing no significant funding into R&D for diseases that primarily affect developing countries.
Prominent petition signatories include David Ho, M.D., 1996 Time Magazine "Man of the Year" for his path-breaking research into the antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS care that the South African law was designed to make more accessible; Mathilde Krim, PhD, founder and chair of the Board of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR); William Prusoff, PhD, discoverer of AIDS drug d4T; prominent authors Chinua Achebe, John Le Carré, Sebastian Junger, Michael Ondaatje, and Susan Sontag; actors and musicians Gillian Anderson, Richard Gere, Whoopi Goldberg, Quincy Jones, Sarah McLachlan, REM, Patrick Stewart, and Carlos Santana.