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The BBC's Caroline Thomsett
"For the first time treatment is within people's grasps"
 real 56k

The BBC's Jane Standley
"Getting the drugs may be the next battle"
 real 56k

The BBC's Allan Little in Pretoria
"It's a humilliating climbdown"
 real 28k

Thursday, 19 April, 2001, 15:32 GMT 16:32 UK
SA victory in Aids drugs case
A lawyer is cheered by activists outside the court
Activists celebrate "a great victory"
The 39 pharmaceutical companies contesting a South African law that could provide cheaper versions of branded Aids drugs have unconditionally dropped the case.

During a hearing which lasted less than a minute, the companies also said that they would meet the South African Government's legal costs.


It's the result of a settlement... we have basically laid down a partnership to allow us to move forward

Mirryena Deeb, PMA chief
Aids activists cheered when the announcement was made, in a case that was seen as a landmark battle in the effort to secure medication for Africa's 26 million HIV carriers.

The drugs companies had taken the government to court in an attempt to block legislation which gives the government powers to import or manufacture cheap versions of brand-name drugs.

Now, the South African authorities are expected to enact the law, which they have argued is desperately needed to tackle the country's Aids crisis.

Pressure

Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said the government had not agreed to any deals regarding the legislation, which as yet has never been implemented.

South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang
Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang: No deal was made
GlaxoSmithKline, one of the companies involved in the legal action, said South Africa had made a commitment to respect international law on drugs patents.

Kevin Watkins, of the British aid group Oxfam, described it as a "comprehensive climbdown" by the drugs companies.

"We have lost three years in the fight against Aids, but it is a great victory for the people of South Africa and for the global campaign to make drugs more affordable."


It is a great victory for the people of South Africa and for the global campaign to make drugs more affordable

Kevin Watkins, Oxfam
The BBC's Jane Standley in Pretoria says the pressure will now be on the government to come up with a treatment plan for the 4.7 million people estimated to be HIV positive in the country.

President Thabo Mbeki's administration has not yet said whether it will import retroviral drugs, which help prevent HIV turning into fullblown Aids, or if they will buy medication to treat so-called "opportunistic infections" that affect Aids patients.

Wednesday's hearing was adjourned, as the companies carried out intense negotiations aimed at securing a quiet exit from a case that correspondents say left them mired in bad publicity.

They have been accused of putting profit before the lives of millions of people who are unable to afford life-saving drugs in the developing world, a charge which they deny.

Blueprint

Mirryena Deeb, chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers' Association of South Africa (PMA), said the government had agreed to consult the companies when the regulations to implement the law were drafted.

Aids patient
More than 4m South Africans are thought to be HIV-positive
The new settlement could become a blueprint for future relations between pharmaceutical companies and governments in the developing world.

Legislation passed in 1997, which allowed for cheaper drugs, was suspended pending the outcome of this court case.

The South African Government argued that this tied its hands at a time when it desperately needed cheap drugs to address the country's crippling Aids crisis.

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See also:

19 Apr 01 | Africa
Head-to-head: Aids drugs
19 Apr 01 | Africa
Cheaper drugs a long way off
19 Apr 01 | Health
SA Aids case: The repercussions
19 Apr 01 | Health
Aids epidemic 'underestimated'
18 Apr 01 | Africa
In pictures: Aids drug protests
15 Mar 01 | Africa
Analysis: Aids drugs and the law
21 Feb 01 | Business
Glaxo offers cheaper Aids drugs
24 Oct 00 | Aids
Aids drugs factfile
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