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The BBC's Karen Allen
"South Africa is not alone in its struggle for cheaper medicines"
 real 56k

Glaxo-Kline-Smith's John Kearney
"We have not backed down, we have come to an amicable settlement"
 real 56k

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

Thursday, 19 April, 2001, 16:54 GMT 17:54 UK
Joy at SA Aids drugs victory
A lawyer is cheered by activists outside the court
Activists celebrate "a great victory"
Aids activists are celebrating what is being seen as a landmark victory in the effort to secure medication for Africa's 26 million HIV carriers.

This is a victory not just for South Africa, but for Africa and the whole developing world

South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang
Thirty-nine pharmaceutical companies who were contesting a South African law that could provide cheaper versions of branded Aids drugs on Wednesday unconditionally dropped their case.

Outside the court, demonstrators and activists, many of them Aids sufferers, danced and cheered when they heard the news.

The outcome of the case... ends a clear signal to the African heads of state that lives should and can take precedence over patents

Joint aid agency statement
Zackie Achmat, head of the South African Treatment Action Campaign said: "This is a real triumph of David over Goliath, not only for us here in South Africa, but for people in many other developing countries who are struggling for access to healthcare."

The drugs companies had taken the government to court in an attempt to block legislation which gives it 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.

International welcome

The World Health Organisation and the International Aids Society, which represents specialist Aids doctors and researchers, welcomed the development.

"The outcome of the case signals a dramatic shift in the balance of power between developing states and drug companies," Oxfam, Medecins Sans Frontieres and the South African Treatment Action Campaign said in a joint statement.

South African Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang
Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang led the celebrations
"It sends a clear signal to the African heads of state that lives should and can take precedence over patents," the statement adds.

A spokesman for GlaxoSmithKline, one of the companies involved in the legal action, said an "amicable settlement" had been reached with the South African Government, and that Pretoria had made a commitment to respect international laws on drugs patents.

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.

Public relations trouble

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

Aids patient
More than 4m South Africans are thought to be HIV-positive
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 with a public relations disaster.

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.


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.

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
Cheaper drugs a long way off
19 Apr 01 | Africa
Head-to-head: Aids drugs
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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