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The BBC's Barnaby Mason
"International pressure on the drugs companies is increasing"
 real 28k

Thursday, 15 March, 2001, 02:35 GMT
Analysis: Aids drugs and the law
South African midwives with babies
Without cheaper drugs the number of Aids babies is set to rise
By Elizabeth Blunt

No one - neither South African President Thabo Mbeki nor anyone else - is saying that Aids is not a national emergency.

One in 10 South Africans is believed to be HIV positive. In neighbouring Botswana the rate is even higher - one in three of the adult population.

The sickness and death of what should be the most energetic and productive people in society is draining the economy and devastating family life.

But the state of emergency which the South African opposition is demanding is not an acknowledgement of the seriousness of the situation. It is a legal procedure, purely designed to circumvent the international patent laws laid down by the World Trade Organisation.

Patent rights

The WTO agreement - which South Africa has signed - protects the sole rights of a pharmaceutical company to manufacture a drug for 20 years after a new patent is registered.

Thabo Mbeki
President Mbeki said a state of emergency would be too drastic

The only way round paying whatever price the company charges is for a country to declare a national health emergency and license local manufacturers to produce the product.

But that loophole is very narrow. The emergency should be for a specific health problem for a limited time, and the patent holder still has to be compensated. And the licence is for manufacture.

A state of emergency would allow President Mbeki to license a South African company to produce Aids drugs, but it would not in itself let him do what he really wants, and import drugs from India or Brazil or wherever they are cheapest.

So President Mbeki wants to stick with South Africa's own drugs law. It may currently be under challenge from the pharmaceutical industry, but he says it is the best way to give South Africa the powers it needs.

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See also:

06 Mar 01 | Africa
Delay for Aids drugs case
21 Feb 01 | Business
Glaxo offers cheaper Aids drugs
12 May 00 | Africa
Aids initiative 'no magic cure'
24 Oct 00 | Aids
Aids drugs factfile
28 Nov 00 | Africa
Africa's Aids burden
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