South Africa: multinationals have attack of compassion

The super-rich pharmaceutical companies have backed down and abandoned a shameful lawsuit which they launched against the South African authorities, over plans to produce cheaper and more accessible anti-AIDS drugs for the country’s 4.7 million HIV positive population. In 1997, the Pretoria government introduced legislation which permitted South Africa to import and produce copies of anti-AIDS drugs, at a much cheaper end price than those products sold by the multinational pharmaceutical companies. These, in their turn, launched a lawsuit complaining against loss of revenue. In reaction to such a selfish and scandalous attitude, the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) of South Africa launched a media campaign against the multinational pharmaceutical companies, accusing them of being more concerned about the bottom line of profits than in saving human lives. Now that the multinationals have backed down and given up from their lawsuit, the anti-AIDS lobby in South Africa is calling on the country’s richest companies to sponsor treatment for their workers. “We are aware of the government’s budget limitations and so we ask the private sector to intervene”, said Patrick Craven of the COSATU trade union. Now that the South African authorities have won the right to produce cheap generic treatment against HIV and its more serious, progressive development, AIDS, the NGOs call on the government to make cheap generic drugs available for HIV and AIDS patients as soon as possible. The fact that the multinational pharmaceutical companies even considered blocking the production of cheaper generics proves that the business is about money, first, and saving lives, second. While it is also true that research costs money, it is shameful that poorer countries should be discriminated against in their quest to make treatment available for their populations. 11% of the population of South Africa is infected with HIV. The average citizen cannot afford to buy the expensive drugs produced by the multinationals. Therefore it is right that generics are produced at a cheaper rate. It is right also that the richer countries pay for this crisis, one of their own making, and that they remember that they are rich because they exploited the resources of the countries which are now struggling to survive.


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