Pretoria, 6 March 2001 — Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today welcomed the South African High Court's decision to accept evidence from the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a South African NGO representing people living with HIV. The decision came on the second day of hearings in a court case in which 39 pharmaceutical companies are suing the South African government to block the implementation of a medicines law designed to improve access and affordability of drugs in the country.
The amicus brief submitted by TAC gives evidence of how branded medicines are unaffordable for millions of people living with HIV in South Africa.
"For the first time, the pharmaceutical industry will have to justify to South Africa and to the world why their drug prices are so high and why their patents should be so aggressively protected, when millions of people are dying and more affordable drugs exist," said Zackie Achmat, chairperson of TAC.
The pharmaceutical industry first tried to block TAC's amicus brief. After the judge's acceptance of the evidence, the industry requested four months longer to reply to the brief. The judge granted the industry three weeks. The law has already been blocked from coming into force for three years. The case will resume in court from 18 to 26 April 2001.
"The pharmaceutical companies have already delayed this case for three years. Every day's delay means no affordable medicines and more people dying," said Eric Goemaere, MD, head of MSF's programmes in South Africa.
The past week has seen worldwide demonstrations supporting the South African government and calling on companies to drop the case. Thousands of people took to the streets in Pretoria, Cape Town, and Durban in South Africa, and were joined by protest marches in major cities around the world. MSF will continue to support the South African government's position on this case and continue to call on the 39 companies to withdraw immediately from the suit.