Press release |

39 Drug Companies vs South Africa: People die for lack of affordable drugs as inhumane industry ignores reality

Pretoria, 5 March 2001 — Over the next seven days, one of the most stark acts of corporate inhumanity will unfold in a small courthouse in downtown Pretoria.

"Five thousand sick South Africans will be alive at the beginning of the week-long hearing and dead by the end of it," said Phil Bloomer of Oxfam. "12,000 people will have become newly infected with the HIV virus during the same week, 1,400 of them babies. This is the catastrophe facing the people of South Africa."

In a joint statement today, international aid agencies Oxfam and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said that many lives could be saved if people had access to affordable medicines, which the South African Medicines and Related Substances Control Amendment Act 1997 would permit.

However, despite condemnation and calls to drop the case, some of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies are attacking South Africa over this law. The government has not yet been able to invoke the law because of the corporate legal challenge.

There will be demonstrations today across the world against the callousness and bullying of these drug giants. "People no longer accept that profits are protected at any cost to human life. These companies now stand hopelessly isolated. No government in the world supports their legal action any longer," said Ellen 't Hoen of MSF.

The legal challenge is a warning to other developing countries that many within the pharmaceutical industry will use any tactic to defend their patents, whatever the cost in human suffering. The agencies note that, during the same week of the court case, the five biggest companies involved in the trial will have sold $2.2 billion worth of medicines and made $560 million in profits.

MSF and Oxfam will be holding regular press briefings with their legal, medical and policy experts following the trial. Briefings will take place throughout the week of court hearings, in Pretoria on the steps of the High Court House, at lunch break and as the court adjourns daily at 16:00. On Monday March 5th however, the press briefing will take place in front of the US embassy at 13:30, at the end of the protest march.