International Petition Campaign Launched

Valérie Batselaere/MSF
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Online Signers Support South Africa's Struggle for AIDS Medicines; Demand Pharmaceutical Companies Drop Court Case

New York, March 12, 2001 — Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has announced the launch of "Drop the Case!" - an international petition drive calling on the 39 pharmaceutical companies suing the South African government to abandon the court case that is stopping South Africans from receiving AIDS drugs.

In 1997, Nelson Mandela signed a law aimed at improving access to medicine, but the pharmaceutical industry immediately filed suit to block it. 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, nearly all without any access to affordable treatments.

"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. 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," said Ellen 't Hoen, coordinator for MSF's Access to Essential Medicines Campaign.

There is mounting international pressure on the 39 companies to drop the case, including statements from many high-level politicians expressing their support for South Africa.

"Every day people with HIV/AIDS who cannot afford essential medicines visit our clinics. I think that it is appalling that the pharmaceutical industry insists on placing profits before people, and continues to oppose the South African government's attempts to improve access to medicines," said Eric Goemaere, MD, coordinator of MSF's AIDS project in South Africa. "I know that thousands - if not millions - of people worldwide agree. I urge them to sign this petition by April 15."

On Monday, March 5, the case opened in the Pretoria High Court. However, despite the mounting death toll, the pharmaceutical industry sought to postpone the case for an additional four months. Instead, the judge granted them three weeks to present data justifying their high prices, and the case will resume on April 18.

The petition calls on the 39 companies to drop the case, and calls on governments of industrialized countries to support South Africa's attempts to improve access to medicine. On February 26, MSF sent letters to all pharmaceutical companies involved in the case, including Merck & Co., Inc., Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, and Pharmacia Corporation, demanding that they drop the lawsuit immediately. On March 5, MSF sent a letter to President George W. Bush urging his administration to issue a public statement in support of South Africa's efforts to improve access to medicines for its citizens.

The petition is available on the newly redesigned website of MSF's U.S. office and on the international site of MSF (www.msf.org). For more information on MSF's Access to Essential Medicines Campaign, see www.accessmed-msf.org.