Patients, Profits and Transnationals - Report from South Africa


1. Sandy Eaton, a registered nurse in Quincy, Mass., sent in the
following news stories from South African newspapers with this note:

A life and death drama is unfolding in South Africa at this very
moment as a consortium of pharmaceutical corporations, many based in
the United States, fight to preserve their property rights in the
face of the AIDS pandemic and the outrage of progressive humanity.
Complete coverage can be accessed by going to
<http://www.labourstart.org .>


* Millions Pin Hope On Drugs Hearing
* Thousands March Against Drugs Multinationals
* Court Hearing Has Global Implications
Aids Drug Test Case: World's Pharma Unions Back South Africa
* Angry Protests As Companies Start Drug Battle

2. Speech by Zwelinzima Vavi, COSATU General Secretary, to the Protest
March held on 5 March 2001 outside the US embassy, Pretoria

3. South African Communist Party: Stop Drug Company Profiteering -
Produce Generic Medicines

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Millions Pin Hope On Drugs Hearing

by Anso Thom, Independent Online March 4, 2001

The hopes of millions of South Africans and fellow Africans will be
pinned on the outcome of the court case between 41 pharmaceutical
companies and the government which starts in Pretoria today.

Led by the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers' Association (PMA) of South
Africa, a trade association representing the research-based
pharmaceutical industry, legal action was instituted against the
government in February 1998 to defend the industry's patent rights.

Action on the part of industry is specifically aimed at Section 15C of
the Medicines and Related Substances Control Amendment Act (No 90 of
1997), which - according to the PMA - allows for the "abrogation of
all patent rights for any pharmaceutical upon ministerial discretion".

The department would 'defend this costly action to the fullest extent'
It allows the government to buy drugs from countries where prices are
already lower - thus trading in parallel with local sellers of the
same drugs.

The PMA said the health department had argued in 1997 and 1998 that
Section 15c was intended purely to enable the government to
occasionally parallel-import a product it believed might be overpriced
in South Africa.

PMA's chief executive officer Mirryena Deeb said the government had
since announced that Section 15C was "model legislation designed to
allow for compulsory licensing and parallel trade".

Director-general for health Dr Ayanda Ntsaluba said the department
would "defend this costly action to the fullest extent because it is
so fundamental to transforming South Africa's highly inequitable
healthcare system" so that even the poorest sections of society
benefited.

Jackie Achmat of the Treatment Campaign (TAC) confirmed that the
activist group would apply today to join the case as a friend of the
court.

They have less to do with the manufacturing' "We believe the patents
system as it stands is undermining the right of access to medicines.
We're prepared to use the existing patent system, but would like to
see an international body re-examine it and put healthcare above
patent law. We need to find a way that people get rewarded for their
efforts, but at the same time ensure there's no obstacle to making
medicines more affordable."

When questioned on the high prices of their drugs, pharmaceutical
companies blamed research and development costs for the high costs of
innovator drugs.

But analysis of the top 12 drug manufacturers in America in 1999
showed that their median percentage of revenue dedicated to research
and development was 12,4 percent, whereas a median of 34,3 percent was
dedicated to marketing and administrative costs.

According to the SA Health Review, huge profits made by the
pharmaceutical industry were another reason to question the need for
high drug costs.

For the past 10 years, the pharmaceutical industry had been the most
profitable in America, with median profit rates more than triple those
of other leading companies.

Chief executive officers of the top 10 firms averaged about R80-
million each in salaries in 1999, with stock options averaging another
R80-million each.

"Drugs prices are therefore considered to a large extent to be managed
by their manufacturers, rather than by the market, said the SA Health
Review.

"They have less to do with the manufacturing and development costs of
the particular product, and more to do with the characteristics of
the market in which they are placed."

In another recent development, the United States has complained to the
World Trade Organisation that Brazil's "local working" requirement in
its patent law is in violation of the Agreement on Trade-related
Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, better known as TRIPS.

The US argues that the local working requirement gives the Brazilian
government the power to issue compulsory licenses, or import either
the patented product or the product obtained from the patented
process, when companies fail to work their patents locally.

The local working requirement thus applies when drug companies import
patented drugs rather than produce them locally, but only if the
companies fails to show that it is not economically or legally viable
to produce locally.

©2001. All rights strictly reserved.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Thousands March Against Drugs Multinationals

March 5, 2001

Thousands of protesters marched from Pretoria's Church Square around
11am on Monday to the city's High Court where they picketed to show
support for the government in its court battle against the
Pharmaceutical Manufacturers' Association, a group which
represents multinational drugs companies.

The pharmaceutical firms are approaching the court in a bid to stop
the country importing cheaper generic medicines, including a cost-
effective anti-AIDS "cocktail".

The marchers, filling the length of an entire street block, marched
down Church and Bosman Streets on their way to the court in Vermeulen
Street.

They were led by Pretoria's Catholic Archbishop George Daniel and
Bishop David Beetge of the Anglican Church.

'We cannot allow them to succeed' Traffic officials, police and
marshals were trying their best to keep the march orderly, and several
city streets had been closed.

Before leaving Church Square, the protesters were led in prayer by
religious leaders.

The marchers included members of the Congress of South African Trade
Unions (Cosatu), the African National Congress, the SA Communist
Party, the Treatment Action Campaign, and other unions.

"We cannot allow them to succeed, and will continue our fight. If we
don't do that it means that we allow people to die," Cosatu's
president, Willie Madisha, said at the march.

Should the drugs firms win the case, Cosatu would approach the
National Economic Development and Labour Council to push for
procedures allowing the union to "mobilise around
this as a socio-economic issue," he said.

©2001. All rights strictly reserved.

------------------------

Court Hearing Has Global Implications
Aids Drug Test Case: World's Pharma Unions Back South Africa

ICEM Update, No. 10/2001, 5 March 2001

Countries must have the right to buy AIDS medication at an affordable
price.

That call was issued in Copenhagen this morning by the leader of trade
unions in the world's pharmaceutical industry.

Fred Higgs, General Secretary of the 20-million-strong International
Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions
(ICEM), was speaking as a crucial court case opened in South Africa
today.

Developing countries' access to medication is at issue in the test
case between the South African government and 39 big pharmaceutical
companies.

To protect their patents, the major drug corporations are asking the
court to stop the implementation of a South African law aimed at
providing cheaper medicines. The law would permit the country's health
minister to use parallel importation of drugs, compulsory licensing
and generic substitution (cut-price "copy" drugs) where necessary.

Application of this Act has already been delayed for several years by
the legal wrangles. The measure is particularly important to the fight
against HIV/AIDS in South Africa, which has one of the world's highest
rates of HIV infection.

"As part of the ICEM's programme to combat HIV/AIDS, we believe that
South Africa and other countries must have the right to buy the
appropriate pharmaceuticals at prices that they can afford," said
Higgs this morning. He was in South Africa last week at an ICEM
conference where African and Asian unions adopted a programme of
action on HIV/AIDS.

"We hope that the South African courts will defend South Africa's
rights in this regard," Higgs added. "We ask ICEM-affiliated unions to
express their support for the South African government's position."

ICEM affiliates include pharmaceutical workers' unions worldwide.

(Higgs was speaking at the congress of the ICEM-affiliated Danish
Women Workers' Union (KAD), which is celebrating its centenary this
year. Over a thousand delegates are attending the congress.)

------------------------

Angry Protests As Companies Start Drug Battle
March 5, 2001

The battle over South Africa's medicine legislation came to a head on
two fronts in Pretoria on Monday - in the city streets and in the High
Court.

As angry words flew when protesters demanding cheaper drugs delivered
a memorandum, the court heard in legal argument that the issue was not
about affordable and accessible
drugs.

The crux of the matter was the constitutionality of the Medicines and
Related Substances Control Amendment Act of 1997, the Pharmaceutical
Manufacturers' Association (PMA)
contended.

Representing about 40 local and international pharmaceutical
companies, it wants the court to prevent the enforcement of the act.

'You are treating us with contempt' The PMA's legal representative
Fanie Cilliers SC said certain sections of the act were
unconstitutional. They were also in breach of the Patents Act and the
country's international obligations.

As the case got under way, thousands of protesters opposing the PMA
court action gathered in Church Square about a block away.

The demonstration was organised by the Congress of SA Trade Unions,
the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), religious bodies and a range of
other organisations.

After marching past the High Court building in Vermeulen Street, the
protesters proceeded on a 5km walk to the United States embassy in
Arcadia.

There they were upset when senior embassy official Robert Godec
refused to walk through the crowd to receive a memorandum outlining
their demands.

Cilliers opposed the joining of the TAC "You are treating us with
contempt," Cosatu president Willie Madisha told Godec.

Madisha later made a brief appearance in the courtroom, where Cilliers
argued that a section of the act gave the health minister the power to
render lawful what the Patents Act rendered unlawful.

Another section, which provided for compulsory substitution of
scheduled medicines by generic drugs, could be dangerous, and was in
breach of property provisions in law, as well as
the constitutional rights of equality and freedom of expression, he
said.

At the start of Monday's proceedings, Cilliers opposed the joining of
the TAC as "friend of the court" in support of the government.

M T K Moerane SC, for the government, expressed his support for the
TAC joining them.

"We believe the clients they represent are at the sharp end of what we
regard as the unreasonable conduct of the applicants. It would be an
injustice not to admit them."

Cilliers requested time to consult his clients. The judge ruled that
the matter should continue in the meantime as if TAC had been allowed
to join. - Sapa

©2001. All rights strictly reserved.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Speech by Zwelinzima Vavi - COSATU General Secretary, to the Protest
March held on 5 March 2001 outside the US embassy, Pretoria

I am deeply honoured to have been asked to speak on behalf of 1,8
million members of COSATU and their families, which runs into several
more millions.

We are involved in the most important struggle since we defeated the
evil system of apartheid seven years ago. In some respect this war
against HIV/AIDS hold the most direct threat to the very freedom we
struggled for more than 100 years. That freedom is on the verge of
being wiped out as all the people that fought for it and who should
benefit from it are about going to die if the Pharmaceutical Companies
are have their way in between today and the 13 March 2001.

There is no war that has killed so many millions of people in the
Africa and the rest of the developing countries more than the AIDS
epidemic. Not even the system of apartheid and all the wars of
dispossession combined with the struggle for freedom killed so many
people. The HIV/AIDS is like foreign army on rampage maiming and
killing thousands of women, men, children and old living behind a
trail of absolute destruction. When faced by such an army, our
government cannot afford to spend the meagre amounts of money it has
been spending on HIV/AIDS for awareness and treatment. Honestly the 43
billion spend on weapons of war should have been spent to buy
medicines that will treat those living with HIV/AIDS and poverty
relief.

The system of capitalism is once again exposing itself as a brutal,
inhuman, anti development, extremely greedy and selfish system ever to
be designed by the human kind. So greedy and inhumane is a capitalist
system that it allows pharmaceutical companies to literally kill
millions of the people in South Africa and throughout by denying them
access to drugs that will treat opportunistic diseases that are
symptoms of HIV/AIDS in pursuit of narrow profits for a few.

The challenge by the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association against
the Medicines and Related Substances Control Amendment Act is not only
a callous act but also shows how easy it is to turn humans against
fellow humans by not just keeping others poor but by taking steps to
prevent them from accessing medicines they can afford in order to save
their lives.

At the end it not the machines that owns these pharmaceutical
companies, their share holders cannot keep mum when those they
employed to generate income for themselves are hiding behind property
rights, patent rights and intellectual rights they subject so many
millions of the people from the developing countries to such misery.
Indeed the system of capitalism and ubuntu are like oil and water they
do not mix.

We are appealing to the USA government whilst we know it has spent
trillions to enforce this brutal system across the world, to for the
sake of our lives prevail on their companies to withdraw this
challenge against our government's endeavours to save our nation from
this catastrophe. We want the USA government to withdraw its
complaint at the World Trade Organisation against Brazil's patent
legislation.

We are calling on our government to double its efforts as it leads
this battalion of over 40 million South Africans. The amounts spent on
fighting the diseases as well as treating those already affected must
increase dramatically at least to the same level as the amounts we
shall spend on the weapons of destruction. The time for the South
African government to use its own legislation and issue compulsory
licensing to local companies to produce generic drugs. This will not
only help with an effective comprehensive treatment of the millions
affected but will help create thousands of new quality jobs for our
people. This new investment must be lead by our government, as we can
no longer trust private capital as through this case has proven that
it seeks to maximise profit from the fate of millions who will
eventually die. Government must establish the company in partnership
with the private sector if this will help process the matter speedily.

We are calling on the Pharmaceutical companies to with draw their
legal challenge today. We also want to warn our person that at stake
here is our right to life. We are prepared to defend that right with
every thing at our disposal. Should this case be dragged by
Pharmaceutical Companies to the Constitutional Court, then COSATU on
behalf of our people and not just organise workers will submit a
section 77 notice in Nedlac granting us a right to protest. And that
protest would have to be more than just a day of a national general
strike.

Our people must understand that they have a duty to defend themselves
from these greedy parasites invading our shores under the name of so
called free market and blocking anybody to develop drugs that will
help save millions of our peoples lives.

Siphiwe Mgcina COSATU Spokesperson

siphiwe@cosatu.org.za 082-821-7456 339-4911


++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

South African Communists On Drug Profiteering

South African Communist Party Calls For End To Drug Company
Profiteering - Produce Generic Medicines

March 1, 2001

"If we do not act now to win affordable medicines, then we will
condemn millions of poor people to misery, ignorance, disease and
premature deaths" said Blade Nzimande (the General Secretary of South
African Communist Party) in relation to the Programme of Action led
by the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the Treatment Action
Campaign against the Pharmaceutical Manufacturer's Association (PMA).
This Programme, which will start on 04 March, seeks to specifically
highlight the court action (starting on 05 March in the Pretoria High
Court) by the PMA against the South African government in respect of
legislation passed in 1997 in order for South Africa to access
affordable medicines.

Given our level of economic development and the massive public health
crisis we face, it is unconscionable that South Africa should pay
prices similar to the United States of America for its medicines. The
legislation challenged by the PMA seeks to correct this through the
production of generic medicines locally and parallel importation of
medicines, which is already taking place in Thailand, India and
Brazil. The big capitalist drug companies are acting to block this so
as to protect their huge profits at the expense of the health and
lives of poor people the world over.

The production of generic medicines in South Africa is long overdue
and is in line with an interventionist and active industrial strategy
and policy in order to grow, develop and transform our economy and
meet our people's needs. For the SACP, the only way in which we, as a
country, can tackle the massive public health crisis, and the
deepening racial, class and gender inequalities in our society is
through an economic transformation path led by our democratic
government which puts the people at its centre and does not hesitate
to tamper with the capitalist character of our economy.

"We should not underestimate the importance of the PMA court challenge
to this legislation. If the PMA wins, then an anti-people precedent
will be set not only for South Africa but for the whole world and
struggles for access to affordable medicines will be set back",
warned Blade Nzimande.

The SACP calls on all South Africans and other progressive forces in
the world to join the 05 March activities in order to act against
profiteering by drug companies and for access to affordable
medicines by South Africa and all other poor countries in the world.
This is also to announce that Blade Nzimande will address a march
(starting from Church Square to the Pretoria High Court and the US
Embassy) between 11h30 and 12h30 on Monday, 05 March. Already, SACP
structures and hundreds of our members, in their own right as SACP
activists, and allied organisations are involved in preparations for
this Programme of Action.

CONTACT Mazibuko K. Jara (surname Jara) Department of Media,
Information and Publicity SACP Tel: 27 11 339-3621/2 Fax: 27 11
339-4244 Cell: 083 651 0271 Email: sacp1@wn.apc.org

Back to Main News Page