Pharmaceutical firms on verge of deal with South African government

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The 39 pharmaceutical companies suing the South African government over a 1997 law regulating medicines were working today to settle the suit.

The 39 pharmaceutical companies suing the South African government over a 1997 law regulating medicines were working today to settle the suit, the companies' lawyer announced.

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.

The companies requested a four–hour recess to allow the negotiations with the government to continue.

Lawyer Stephanus Cilliers asked for the postponement "in hopes that certain discussions that are going on will obviate the need for further ...proceedings."

The pharmaceutical companies that brought the suit argued that the South African law, which was never implemented, 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 poor countries.

Most of the world's HIV infected people live in Africa, one of the world's most impoverished regions. In 2000, 2.4 million people in the region died from the effects of AIDS.

The Treatment Action Campaign, a local AIDS activist group that has filed a brief in support of the government, demanded the companies pull out immediately.

"There's nothing to discuss. The companies must simply withdraw from the case," said Zackie Achmat, head of the group.

The lawsuit has become a public relations liability for the companies, leaving the impression they cared more about making money than about saving lives.

The case had been postponed for six weeks to give the pharmaceutical companies time to respond to late filings.

Since then, several companies have offered to sell their AIDS drugs to poor countries at or below cost. They continued to argue, however, that the lawsuit was about patents and property rights and involved more than just AIDS drugs.

Some supporters of the government expressed shock at the drug companies efforts to talk.

"They've been so dug in, I've been surprised that they'd actually back down," said James Love, director of the Consumer Project on Technology.

Comments