19 April 2001

SOUTH AFRICA: Aids case decision

International pharmaceutical companies on Thursday, April 19th dropped their court bid to prevent South Africa from importing cheap copies of their patented Aids drugs. "With the consent of all parties, I simply ask to notify (that) the application is withdrawn," Fanie Cilliers, lawyer for the 39 drug firms, told a packed court, including Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang and dozens of Aids activists, many wearing t-shirts proclaiming themselves "HIV positive".

When the judge made the withdrawal an order of the court, loud cheers erupted from the public gallery. An elated Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said she was grateful for the support the government had received. Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) leader Zachie Achmat said: "Many more lives can be saved through this legislation." Mirryena Deeb of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturer's Association (PMA) said the organisation was pleased with the outcome. She said an understanding with government had been reached and, among many issues, the government would respect patent rights.

The case was brought by the PMA and 39 international drug makers, who had sought to prevent implementation of a new law that would allow Pretoria to import cheap copies of patented drugs. South Africa, with an estimated 4,7 million sufferers, has more people living with HIV or Aids than any other country in the world. Africa has an estimated 25 million people infected with the virus or already ill.

Meanwhile, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations (IFPMA) said it was pleased the industry and South African government had found a "mutually satisfactory settlement". The terms of the settlement met both the industry's goals and those of Pretoria and would enable them to work together to address the health needs of patients in the country, IFPMA said. "The winners in this settlement are the South African patients who need continued and enhanced research, development and delivery of quality medicines and vaccines," Harvey Bale, IFPMA director-general said in a press release.

South Africa and the pharmaceuticals industry agree the protection of intellectual property, such as brand names, is an "essential incentive for innovation", IFPMA said. "This agreement ensures that with strong intellectual property protection (consistent with international agreements) the search for new medicines will continue unabated," it added (Mail & Guardian daily).

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