?Let?s make a deal?

THE SA government and pharmaceutical companies have reached agreement over the issue of pricing of Aids drugs, the Swiss Interpharma association was reported as saying in Basle, Switzerland on Wednesday.

Interpharma chief executive Thomas Cueni said the agreement would also mean the withdrawal by companies of legal action in Pretoria against government legislation, The Star newspaper reported.

Several of the total of 39 pharmaceutical companies still have to give their approval for the agreement to be finalised, he said.

The landmark court case was to resume on Thursday amid growing expectations that the 39 companies had decided that their challenge of a South African law on importing cheaper generic Aids drugs had backfired in the face of growing protests.

The European Parliament and the Non-Aligned Movement have both urged the companies to drop the case, which is taking place in the country with the highest number of HIV carriers in the world - 4.7 million, or one in every nine South Africans.

Activists charge that the companies are putting profits ahead of the lives of the sick and dying in poor nations which cannot afford expensive brand-name antiretroviral drugs.

The companies maintain the South African law would put the very future of the pharmaceutical industry at risk by threatening profits that provide them with the revenue to pioneer new drugs, even though they make less than one percent of their profits in Africa.

British charity group Oxfam said most of the companies seeking to defend their patent rights had already decided to reach a settlement with the South African government and drop the case.

“We understand that 37 of the 39 companies have pulled out of the case, and the dispute now centres on who among the drug firms will settle the legal bill,” Oxfam senior policy adviser Kevin Watkins said.

The trade association representing the companies said it would hold a news conference at noon on Thursday, just two hours after the scheduled resumption of the court hearing.

Former health minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said yesterday she was hopeful the court case would soon be settled.

She said the 1997 Medicines and Related Substances Amendment Act had been held back because of the court case. She added that, as a member of the World Trade Organisation, SA respected patent law, but it had an obligation to supply affordable medicine to its people.

The court postponed the case on Wednesday, saying there were discussions under way that could lead to a settlement.

Fanie Cilliers, a lawyer for the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of South Africa, said: “We requested the delay so that common ground can be found for a settlement.”

The court action was brought by drug companies including GlaxoSmithKline, the world’s largest supplier of HIV/ Aids medicines. The other major manufacturers are US companies Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb, Swiss group Roche and German group Boehringer Ingelheim. - Reuters, AFP

ZA*NOW:

Drug firms to drop case? April 18, 2001

First salvoes fired in new drug war April 18, 2001

Use the weapon of dialogue - Mandela April 16, 2001

Mandela’s fund recognises Grip April 14, 2001

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