Letter from South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign to University of Minnesota President Marck G. Yudof
April 3, 2001

Dear President Yudof:

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) is a South African based organisation working towards access to health-care and treatment for people with HIV/AIDS. According to UNAIDS, over 35 million people in the developing world are infected with HIV/AIDS. While people with HIV living in North America and Europe are living longer, healthier lives due to the development of anti-retroviral medicines, most people with HIV in poor countries, including South Africa, face the possibility of early and unnecessary death because they cannot afford to pay for these life-saving treatments.

An anti-retroviral medicine, Abacavir, was developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota. It is licensed to Glaxo SmithKline and marketed by this company as Ziagen. Ziagen is likely to be registered in South Africa soon. Pharmaceutical companies have a record of charging exorbitant prices for patented essential medicines, thereby placing them out of reach of most people who need them.

Abacavir was developed primarily with public money. It is an accepted principal that public research should serve the public interest above private profit. While Abacavir was developed using US taxpayer money, we are sure that most Americans, who are aware of the profiteering practices of pharmaceutical companies, are appalled by these practices. Furthermore, research is not conducted in a vacuum and the development of all medicines is a global process drawing on results and expertise from universities and researchers throughout the world, including poor countries.

We therefore request that the University of Minnesota put Abacavir under an open license so that any manufacturer with enough capacity and expertise can produce it. This will open the market for Abacavir to competition and ensure that the medicine will be sold at a sustainable, affordable price to both the public and private sectors, not only in South Africa, but throughout the world, particularly in developing countries.

The struggle for affordable treatments for people with HIV/AIDS is already having to be pursued in the courts in several countries. We urge the University of Minnesota rather to address availability of Abacavir as an urgent ethical imperative, to help put an end to unnecessary deaths.

Yours sincerely

Zackie Achmat
Chairperson of the Treatment Action Campaign

Sipho Mthathi
Vice-chairperson of the Treatment Action Campaign

Mark Heywood
Secretary of the Treatment Action Campaign

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