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MSF Demands Pharmaceutical Industry Stop Obstructing Access to Medicines in South Africa
Pretoria, South Africa/New York, March 1, 2001 — At a press conference today in Pretoria, South Africa, the international medical aid agency Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) joined Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), Oxfam, the Health GAP Coalition, and other advocates around the world to demand that 39 pharmaceutical companies, including Bristol-Myers Squibb, Glaxo SmithKline, and Merck, immediately and unconditionally drop their legal challenge to a South African law aimed at improving access to medicine. For more than three years, the pharmaceutical industry has blocked the implementation of the Medicines and Related Substances Control Amendment Act, Act 90, a law passed by the South African government in 1997 to make medicines more affordable to patients. On March 5, the case will open before the High Court in Pretoria.
MSF is also calling on governments of developed countries to speak out against these attempts to hinder South Africa's effort to make medicines affordable for its citizens. In particular, MSF asks that the United States government and the European Union issue statements supporting South Africa's right to use legal measures that comply with international trade agreements to improve access to medicine.
"Everyday, dozens of people with HIV/AIDS come to our clinics in a poor township outside Cape Town looking for affordable medicine, but the high price of drugs means that we are only able to offer treatment to a limited number of people," said Dr. Eric Goemaere, director of MSF's AIDS program in South Africa. "People with HIV/AIDS in South Africa are dying because drug prices are too high as a result of patent protection. I find it appalling that the pharmaceutical industry is ignoring this and instead is trying to block the government's efforts to improve access to medicines."
The South African government inherited a system of high medical prices from the apartheid regime and is now trying to cope with the burden of providing care for over four million people with HIV, more than any other country in the world. It is trying to address these challenges by allowing the Ministry of Health to better respond to health crises by using measures such as parallel importation and generic substitution. These measures are legal under the World Trade Organization's intellectual property rights rules (the TRIPS Agreement) and are widely used in Europe and the U.S.
Additionally, MSF supports the call made by the Treatment Action Campaign, a South African NGO working on access to medicines for people with HIV/AIDS, for an International Day of Action on March 5 to protest the pharmaceutical industry's involvement in blocking the South African government's attempts to improve access to medicine.
For more information on solidarity activities taking place in the United States and around the globe on March 5, see www.globaltreatmentaccess.org/action.html.
List of Companies Involved in the Lawsuit