Pretoria, 8 March 2001 — Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today announced the launch of an international petition drive calling on the 39 pharmaceutical companies suing the South African government to drop their court case.
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, almost all of whom lacked 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 of the Globalization Project 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 Dr. Eric Goemaere of MSF-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, 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 18 April.
The petition calls on the 39 companies to drop the case, and calls on governments of developed countries to support South Africa's attempts to improve access to medicine.