Solidarity with South Africa on the 1997 Medicines Act:

People with HIV and Organizations in the United States and Worldwide Condemn the Pharmaceutical Industry Lawsuit Pending in South African High Court; Pledge Support to the South African Government for their Efforts to Expand Access to Lifesaving Medicines

Monday, March 12, 2001


Monday, March 12, 2001

TO: Ambassador Sheila Sisulu, Republic of South Africa

On behalf of the activists here today, including representatives from ACT UP, the Gray Panthers, the Health GAP Coalition, Oxfam America, and Doctors Without Borders, we present to you this Memorandum of Solidarity.

On April 18, hearings will resume in the case of 39 of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies against the people and the government of the new South Africa. The plaintiffs include GlaxoSmithKline, Hoffman la Roche, Merck, Boehringer-Ingelheim, and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

The companies are fighting a law, passed by the South African parliament and approved by Nelson Mandela, which would increase access to life-saving medication for people with HIV and others in need of safe, effective medication.

We represent persons of conscience and organizations across the United States, and our allies worldwide, who have joined together to condemn this lawsuit and to offer our support to the Government of South Africa as plaintiffs in this case. We are all united with a single purpose, to ensure that everyone— including people with HIV and AIDS—has access to their fundamental right to health.

Nearly five million South Africans are living with HIV. But few can afford the drugs that have enabled richer countries to transform the disease from a killer into a manageable illness. We believe that this lawsuit is legally flawed and morally reprehensible. We believe that the Medicines Act is does not violate any international agreements. We call on the companies involved to drop the case and on Western Governments to provide clear support to the South African Government as it strives to tackle the urgent HIV/AIDS epidemic.

We note that 400,000 South Africans have lost their lives in the time since the passage of the Medicines Act to the present day, while the pharmaceutical industry lawsuit has blocked implementation of these essential reforms.

If the case should go forward, we welcome the decision of the South African High Court to accept evidence in this lawsuit from the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), in order bring a voice in the Court of the people most directly affected by drug company greed. Having been accepted as a "Friend of the Court," TAC will give evidence about how brand name medicines are unaffordable for millions of people living with HIV in South Africa.

We commend the South African Government for acting in solidarity with people with HIV worldwide by taking a strong stand to defend the Medicines Act, and condemn the pharmaceutical companies that insist on placing their profit interest before all other concerns.

We understand that the pharmaceutical industry is not primarily concerned with African profits.

We understand that the pharmaceutical industry is concerned that consumers and governments in the North will become less willing to pay the extraordinarily high prices currently charged when it becomes plain to all that pills cost pennies to manufacture, —— and that a great deal of drug company research and development is paid for by U.S. tax dollars.

Drug companies pricing policies reflect a deliberate choice to secure false perceptions in wealthy countries so as to extract the maximum profits from the few. The termination of millions of poor lives has been deemed an acceptable cost by the captains of the most profitable industry in the world.

We insist that human lives are must become more valuable that drug company profits.

We demand that nations have access to every tool to increase access to life saving or extending medicines. This must include the introduction of local generic manufacturing and purchase and importation of medications at the best world price.

We can never support responses to the global AIDS catastrophe that are dependant upon corporate charity. Headline generating announcements such as the recent story from Merck have yet to put pills in the hands of a tenth of one percent of the 25 million Africans with HIV.

To the extent that meaningful price reduction offers from the branded drug companies may materialize, they are an incidental by-product of the North-South campaigns for sustainable, self-sufficient responses global AIDS holocaust.

Drug company price reduction offers must never have the conditions attached that came with last year’s round of proposals. The strings attached could sometimes amount to a noose.

We demand that wealthy countries fund large scale bulk procurement and distribution programs that optimize manufacturing capacity and coordinate economies of scale so that funds for treatment can get pills to the greatest number of people.

We demand that the Bush Administration retain and expand policies that allow poor nations to use WTO-legal tools such as compulsory licensing and parallel importing to increase access to medicine. The Administration must expand the policies so that non- OECD countries outside of sub-Saharan Africa are ‘covered’.

In conclusion, we stand with South Africa in a battle against the drug companies to bring lifesaving medication to people with HIV, their families and their communities.

We support the plans of governments to increase access to medicines through proven free market approaches that include generic competition. We are honored and proud to stand with the Government and people of South Africa against the greed-induced planned murder of millions by the pharmaceutical industry.


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