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MSF in Spain, 2001
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Landmark Court Case Opens Door to Medicine
In April 2001, the South African government prevailed in a landmark court case against a group of 39 pharmaceutical companies. The companies wanted to block South African legislation—already passed—permitting imports of the cheapest available patented drugs and use of generic substitutes, and promoting drug pricing transparency.
With an estimated 4.2 million HIV-positive people, 1,700 new infections per day and 68,000 HIV-positive newborn babies each year, South Africa had everything at stake. When the companies finally dropped their case in the face of enormous international public pressure, new hope came to people suffering from AIDS and other diseases in South Africa, and in other developing countries searching for affordable, equitable access to lifesaving medicines. MSF has been present in South Africa since 1999 with combined AIDS prevention and treatment programs.
Over 16,000 Have Come to the Clinics
In Khayelitsha, a township with 500,000 inhabitants in Western Cape province, MSF works to prevent mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV in three clinics. The MTCT program, initiated by the government and supported technically by MSF, includes rapid HIV testing and counseling for expectant mothers. Since the program's inception in late 1999, over 16,000 women have come to the clinics. Nearly 12,000 have been tested for HIV. Two-thirds of over 2,000 women who tested positive decided to start AZT treatment in their 34th week of pregnancy.
In another arm of the program, MSF is caring for 1,800 AIDS patients, half of them coming from the MTCT program. A first group from among these 1,800 patients began antiretroviral triple therapy in spring 2001. MSF is committed to offering antiretroviral treatment to 150 adults and 30 children, and more if drug prices continue to drop.
The Courage to Speak About Their Disease
In 1999, Khayelitsha had just one support group for mothers with HIV; now there are more than ten. Through visits to schools, clinics, and support groups, these women are helping break a vicious circle of denial. MSF is also working to develop sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinics for young men, underrepresented in the other clinics and support groups.
In addition to its work in Khayelitsha, MSF has been promoting use of new malaria combination drugs in response to an explosive outbreak of malaria in the province of KwaZulu Natal.
MSF started working in South Africa in the 1980s and was until 1993 providing assistance to refugees from Mozambique. MSF returned to South Africa in 1999.