Pretoria, 1 March 2001 — In letters sent internationally to company headquarters, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Oxfam called on 39 pharmaceutical companies to 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 a law (the Medicines and Related Substances Control Amendment Act, Act 90 of 1997) the South African government passed to make medicine more affordable to patients. On 5 March, the case will open before the High Court in Pretoria.
"This court case symbolizes the hypocrisy of the pharmaceutical industry," said Oxfam policy director Justin Forsyth. "They talk about wanting to improve people's access to medicines - but only on their terms. When the South African government tried to implement legislation to make this happen, the industry immediately blocked it. This is a chilling message from the drug companies to other developing country governments: Play by our rules, or face the consequences."
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 Minister of Health to better respond to health crises by using measures such as parallel importation and generic substitution.
Such 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.
"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 of MSF-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 medicine."
We further call on the 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, we call on the European Commission and the U.S. Government to issue statements supporting South Africa's right to use WTO-legal measures to improve access to medicine.
Additionally, we support 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 5 March to protest the pharmaceutical industry's involvement in blocking the South African government's attempts to improve access to medicine.
The Pharmaceutical Manufacturers' Association of South Africa
Alcon Laboratories (S.A.) (Proprietary) Limited
Bayer (Proprietary) Limited
Bristol-Myers Squibb (Proprietary) Limited
Byk Madaus (Proprietary) Limited
Eli Lilly (South Africa) (Proprietary) Limited
Glaxo Wellcome (South Africa) (Proprietary) Limited
Hoechst Marion Roussel Limited
Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals (Proprietary) Limited
Janssen-Cilag Pharmaceutica (Proprietary) Limited
Knoll Pharmaceuticals South Africa (Proprietary) Limited
Lundbeck South Africa (Proprietary) Limited
Merck (Proprietary) Limited
MSD (Proprietary) Limited
Novartis South Africa (Proprietary) Limited
Novo Nordisk (Proprietary) Limited
Pharmacia & Upjohn (Proprietary) Limited
Rhone-Poulenc Rorer South Africa (Proprietary) Limited
Roche Products (Proprietary) Limited
Schering (Proprietary) Limited
Schering-Plough (Proprietary) Limited
S.A. Scientific Pharmaceuticals (Proprietary) Limited
SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceuticals (Proprietary) Limited
Universal Pharmaceuticals (Proprietary) Limited
Wyeth (Proprietary) Limited
Xixia Pharmaceuticals (Proprietary) Limited
Zeneca South Africa (Proprietary) Limited
Boehringer-Ingelheim International GmbH
Bristol-Myers Squibb Company
Byk Gulden Lomberg Chemische Fabrik GmbH
Dr. Karl Thomae GmbH
Eli Lilly and Company
F. Hoffman-La Roche AG
Merck & Co., Inc.
Rhone-Poulenc Rorer S.A.