Mandela condemns the firms
NELSON MANDELA, the former South African president, has bitterly criticised the giant pharmaceutical firms. He said last weekend that it was a "gross error" for the firms to sue the South African government to stop it buying or making cheaper copies of anti-AIDS drugs.
He added, "They are exploiting the situation in the developing world because they charge exorbitant prices." Mandela's speech is part of a growing wave of protest in South Africa and across the world which has hurled the drug firms onto the defensive. The court case was due to resume on Wednesday of this week.
Some of the drugs firms are anxious to reach a settlement with the South African government in order to avoid further embarrassment. They would like to make some concessions on a few drugs in order to protect their patents in general.
As Raymond Gilmartin, chairman and chief executive of drugs firm Merck, says, "If we don't solve this drug access problem then our intellectual property is at risk." These companies are worried that the scandal of denying drugs to people with AIDS will spark a wider debate about their policies, not just in the Third World but in the West, where the great majority of their profits come from.
But the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of South Africa, the industry body spearheading the case, wants to keep up the legal action to the bitter end. These companies should not be allowed to escape with deals or compromises. As a first step forward they must be forced to drop their patents and supply free drugs, without conditions, to the Third World.