Drugs firms drop lawsuit challenge against cheap AIDS treatment

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The Independent Online

Pharmaceutical companies dropped their lawsuit challenging a South African law that could provide cheaper, generic versions of patented AIDS drugs.

Pharmaceutical companies have dropped their lawsuit challenging a South African law that could provide cheaper, generic versions of patented AIDS drugs.

The lawsuit had been seen by international human rights groups and AIDS activists as a landmark battle in the effort to secure medication for the 26 million people in Africa infected with HIV.

"By the consent of all parties, we would simply ask your lordship to note that the application is withdrawn," said Stephanus Cilliers, the lawyer for the pharmaceutical companies.

After the judge accepted the motion, activists who were packed into the courtroom erupted into cheers and singing.

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala–Msimang said the government had not agreed to any deals in exchange for dropping the suit.

More than three dozen pharmaceutical companies brought the suit, arguing that a 1997 South African law regulating medicine was too broad, and unfairly targeted drug manufacturers.

The government, AIDS activists and human rights groups say the drug companies are trying to wring profits out of a public health nightmare that threatens to devastate South Africa and dozens of other impoverished countries.

More than 25 million of the 36 million people infected with HIV live in sub–Saharan Africa, one of the world's most impoverished regions. In 2000, 2.4 million people in the region died from the effects of AIDS.

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