Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point: Debates: African
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Wednesday, 21 February, 2001, 11:17 GMT
Essential drugs: Out of reach for Africa?

The international aid group, Oxfam, has accused the global pharmaceutical industry and western governments of waging what it calls an undeclared drugs war against the world's poorest countries.

The organisation says developing countries must be allowed to make cheap copies of drugs to treat diseases such as Aids, respiratory tract infections and childhood diarrhoea.

Yet the companies say that they need to recoup the millions they have paid in research and development in order to produce better drugs in the future. Are they right?

Should Africans be able to get life-saving drugs at the cheapest price possible?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Do statistics mean anything to these drug companies? Would they rather have many more poor people die than lose a few million dollars ? It is disgusting to know that big businesses place profit before human life. As we waste more time debating this issue more are dying who could have been saved.
K. Chiketsani, Zimbabwe

Pharmaceutical companies and Western governments do not have any obligation to take care of us Africans. Our leaders do not respect their own elite, as they look on them as a threat. Universities, places for research, have been turned into political establishments. Unless we Africans learn to discover our own potential and also to respect ourselves we shall never be in position to even produce cheap copies of the drugs that others have invented.
Willy Kisitu, Ugandan in Poland

One precious life might have been saved

UE, Nigeria/ UK
From some of the comments I have read so far, it is clear that some of my fellow Africans revel very much in this belief that somebody, somewhere, somehow, always owes us something. While I am prepared to acknowledge that the HIV/ Aids epidemic is not something we could have prevented on our own. The truth is that if our so-called leaders had not chosen to indulge in their own selfish interests, graft and/ or senseless wars, someone might have been able to launch a sustained public enlightenment campaign against this dreadful killer long before now. One precious life might have been saved; one innocent child could have been spared so much suffering. The pharmaceutical companies may have behaved in an obscene manner, and Western countries have, perhaps, not done enough. But the time has come, surely, for us to realise that other countries have their own problems to worry about, and that they will therefore not always be willing to do very much to assist us.
UE, Nigeria/ UK

Brazil is making cheap drugs to prolong the lives of its sick citizens including Aids patients. The developing countries including Africa should follow Brazil and make affordable drugs available to their citizen if they have the capacity to do so. The big pharmaceutical companies are indifferent to the suffering of the poor and the developing countries should not expect much from them.
Haile, USA

Africa was there long before there were pharmaceutical companies

Rick Freeman, USA
Africa was there long before there were pharmaceutical companies. Time to gather the healing recipes our ancestors used, and apply them. If Africa has to survive without the benefit of modern medicines, then so be it. Use the old ones!
Rick Freeman, USA

Many people don't realise that although the drug companies wish to protect their intellectual property rights, many of the ingredients used for the drugs are sourced from developing countries which still have rich and diverse natural habitats. We never hear of the developing countries receiving payment or compensation for these ingredients, yet the pharmaceutical firms can use them to produce a drug to sell back to those countries.
Marcus ter Haar, Botswana

If the political and moral will existed the world's nations could divert a small percentage of wealth towards some form of international drug insurance plan [perhaps administered by the UN} that could purchase and distribute these pharmaceuticals freely to those in the greatest need. So where is the will?
Tony Partridge, Canada

How much money do pharmaceutical companies make out of sales in Africa? Not much, I would image. Despite the need for medicines in Africa most of the companies profits would come from sales in the West where people can afford the drugs. Therefore, what's the economic harm to the big pharmaceutical companies in allowing African countries to make cheap copies of necessary drugs for domestic sale? It wouldn't cause great damage to their bottom line and would be humane.
Emma, Australia

Drug companies are motivated by profits, not humanitarianism

Thom, USA
Drug companies are motivated by profits, not humanitarianism. I can understand why some poorer nations would want to copy these drugs, but they must expect the pharmaceutical companies to do everything in their power to stop it. Within the drug industry's realm of influence are politicians, and that translates to economic retaliation at national level by the countries in which these companies reside. Research and development dollars come from income, and it isn't in MY interest to see research stagnate due to loss of the profit motive. Maybe the African Governments should make Aids education and drug purchasing a priority instead of saving up every last dime for more weaponry.
Thom, USA

Comments like those given by Tony Costello are moronic to say the least. Africa is not asking the West for handouts, we are asking them to be humane. Yes they are in business for the purpose of profit but does Tony Costello forget that the West is what it is because of Africa (your companies own our diamonds, gold etc)? You had Africans fighting in your little tribal war (2nd World War) and yet you cannot be humane enough to assist a dying continent with drugs which are a necessity.
Sizwe, South Africa

The pharmaceutical companies must be allowed to make money. After all, they are privately owned for-profit companies. What Africans need is to get rid of their corrupt leaders first and to educate their own people.
Berhane Negash, Ethiopian/ American

Aids is a pogrom going on in Africa

Jaafar Williams, Nigeria
Aids is a pogrom going on in Africa, but as expected, the West will not help as long as they don't see themselves making so much money. However, when it gets too late, they'll start scrambling to give us a pittance when many generations have been wiped out. To expect much from the West is to look for a miracle. The West has not and will never help Africa.
Jaafar Williams, Nigeria

The poverty that is threatening to cripple humanity in the twenty first century may not be disease or hunger after all, but the lack of public will to address human suffering and social welfare in our world. Tell the drug companies to rise above the shadows of the bottom line (apathy) and start looking at the "top line" (fulfilment).
Chris Ellom, Ghanaian/ Canadian

Drugs should be made available to the poor. However, if governments stopped wasting money on unnecessary wars and other 'events', more money would be available to help them.
Daline Taestensen, South Africa

This is the time to give aid with no strings attached

Anekeya Alwanga, Kenya
History will live long. During the colonial era, much and staggering resources were taken abroad. Thus the west became developed. Now how does the west payback? This is the time to give aid with no strings attached. Please western countries show a big heart and help fight AIDS. Either we fight AIDS together, or everybody goes down with it.
Anekeya Alwanga, Kenya

Africa needs a lot of capital injection for it to be able to stand on its feet. The major problems of most African countries are poverty and diseases and UN statistics show that a majority of Africans live below the poverty line. It would therefore be justifiable if Africans are provided with life saving drugs because the fact still remains that a majority of them would not be able to afford the expensive drugs.
Sedinam Akpedonu, Ghana

Most if not all the Pharmaceutical Companies are in business to make money. They understand that there is a huge demand for medicine in Africa, but they know there is no money and as a result their priority is focused some where else. The bottom line of their financial statements is watched very carefully and they don't want to be viewed as a charity organization but as a business to make money. This may sound harsh but that's the reality many people don't understand.
Teshome Habte, Eritrean/Canadian

If Africa cannot be given an opportunity or a free deal to afford these drugs, then the whole African nation will be wiped out by this world enemy no.1.
Junias Kalimbo, Namibia

Economically, most of these nations are less developed. Their per capita incomes are among the lowest in the world. I think they deserve cheap drugs to survive. If the drug manufacturers put profit ahead of human suffering, this is pathetic, immoral and outrageous.
Eddie Edirisa Sebirumbi, Mississauga, Canada

This sounds like the West being asked for another handout. Who is going to pay for the development costs of these drugs if Africa gets them on the cheap? Why are African governments not spending money on research instead of armies?
Tony Costello, UK

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

12 Feb 01 | Health
Drugs firms 'waging war' on poor
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more African stories