Open Letter from Nicolas de Torrente, Executive Director of Medicines Sans Frontieres, to President George W. Bush

April 17, 2001

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500

Sent Via Facsimile Transmission to (202) 456-2461,
E-mail to, and U.S. Mail

Dear President Bush,

As described in our letter to you dated March 5, 2001, on February 18, 1998, 39 pharmaceutical manufacturers brought a lawsuit against the Government of the Republic of South Africa aiming to prevent implementation of the Medicines and Related Substances Control Amendment Act, No. 90 of 1997. This legislation, which has now been blocked for three years, aims to address the lack of access to affordable medicines in South Africa by promoting the use of generic substitution and by permitting the parallel importation of medicines. On behalf of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), I am writing once again to request urgent action from your administration on this landmark case, which resumes in the High Court in Pretoria, South Africa, tomorrow, April 18, 2001. We strongly urge you to state publicly and unequivocally U.S. support of South Africa's right to use legal measures that comply with international trade agreements, namely the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), to improve access to essential medicines (including anti-retrovirals effective against HIV/AIDS).

As you may be aware, in the six weeks that the court postponed the case to allow the South African Pharmaceutical Manufacturer's Association to provide evidence defending their high prices, an estimated 30,000 more people have died of AIDS-related causes in South Africa, the vast majority of whom did not have access to life-saving medicines. This is simply indefensible.

Over the past six weeks, MSF and other non-governmental organizations throughout the world have been circulating a global petition urging the companies involved in the lawsuit, many of which are U.S.-based, to withdraw from the lawsuit immediately. Over 250,000 individuals and organizations from over 130 countries around the world have signed the petition. Dozens of prominent individuals in the medical and scientific community have added their names to the growing list of petition signatories, including David Ho, M.D., 1996 Time Magazine "Man of the Year" for his path-breaking research into antiretroviral drugs for HIV/AIDS care, and William Prusoff, PhD, discoverer of the anti-AIDS drug d4T.

In addition, a growing number of political leaders from around the world-including former South African President Nelson Mandela, Director General of the World Health Organization Gro Harlem Brundtland, and the European Parliament-have called on the companies to withdraw from the case. We urge you to demonstrate leadership in the fight against the global AIDS pandemic by publicly supporting South Africa's efforts to improve access to essential medicines.

We trust that you will not ignore this plea made by hundreds of thousands around the world. We look forward to receiving your response.


Nicolas de Torrente
Executive Director

cc: Colin L. Powell, Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State
Tommy Thompson, Secretary of Health & Human Services, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services
Robert Zoellick, U.S. Trade Representative
Joseph Papovich, Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for Services, Investment, and Intellectual Property
Scott Evertz, Director, Office of National AIDS Policy Congressional Black Caucus

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