AIDS: Annan welcomes withdrawal of case by drug companies in South Africa

AIDS: Annan welcomes withdrawal of case by drug companies in South Africa

Welcoming the withdrawal of a case by pharmaceutical companies against the Government of South Africa, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan today expressed hope that this development would help increase access to AIDS medicines for those in need.

The South African case, which was withdrawn by 39 pharmaceutical companies and associations, challenged provisions of the Medicines and Related Substances Control Amendment Act of 1997. The Act aimed to operationalize key elements of the National Drug Policy, including generic substitution, greater competition in public drug procurement, improved drug quality, and more rational use of medicines, according to the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS, which welcomed the resolution today.

In a statement released by his spokesman, Mr. Annan voiced expectation that the amicable settlement could "result in medicines to treat HIV/AIDS and other diseases becoming much more widely available in South Africa, at prices that those who need them can afford."

Mr. Annan also looked to the potential benefits beyond South African borders, saying he hoped the amicable settlement of the case "presages a new era of cooperation between governments and the private sector in the struggle for better health care throughout the developing world."

The Secretary-General paid tribute to those who helped facilitate the resolution of the matter, saying, "the credit for this positive outcome goes to the wisdom and perseverance of the parties concerned, and to the constructive intervention of President Thabo Mbeki."

A spokesman for Mr. Annan recalled the role played by the Secretary-General in response to the case, recalling that earlier this month at a meeting with six major pharmaceutical companies the issue had come up. The Secretary-General "urged the pharmaceuticals not to prolong that case," spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva told reporters. "In his view, it was not in the interest, certainly, of people living with HIV/AIDS, but not in the interest of the companies, either," he added, noting that since that meeting, the Secretary-General had contacts on the issue with the pharmaceuticals and with the South Africans.

Mr. Annan, who has made a personal commitment to galvanize global efforts in the fight against HIV/AIDS, is expected to outline key priorities towards this end when he addresses the next week's African Summit on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Other Related Infectious Diseases, to be held in Abuja, Nigeria. The speech will focus on priority aspects of the epidemic, including prevention, care and treatment, and the essential factors needed for a large-scale response.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also welcomed the settlement, saying that now equitable access to essential medicines "can be expanded and vital HIV-related medicines can in future be made available to all South Africans who need them." WHO added that it was prepared to assist the Government of South Africa in that process.