October 20, 2000
This week South Africa's Treatment Action Committee (TAC), the major HIV treatment activist group in the country, defied patent laws by importing generic fluconazole from Thailand, where TAC purchased it more than 50 times cheaper than the South African retail price, according to news reports in the country. Many people in Africa have died because they could not afford the drug -- including activist and TAC member Christopher Moraka, who had testified to a committee of parliament about the need for fluconazole and about its inflated price. The campaign to import the drug and raise this issue has been named after him.
For months patent holder Pfizer has been negotiating with the South African government to provide fluconazole free to the government for treating cryptococcal meningitis -- but apparently not for major candidiasis (thrush) infections, which killed Christopher Moraka, and apparently with no price reduction for patients who cannot get the drug through the government program but have to purchase it privately. Pfizer made the donation announcement after TAC had raised the issue by asking the company to either reduce its price to twice the generic price, or license someone else to do so. The company's press release reaped great international publicity, but in the months since, not one capsule has reached a single patient.
TAC has applied to the South African government for a humanitarian exemption to import the generic -- an exemption recognized under the country's law. Instead, the government charged organizer Zackie Achmat with a criminal offense. He turned himself in to the police, providing documentation on the Thai product (called Biozole) and a sample of the drug, and was not arrested at that time.
The Defiance Campaign is supported by many doctors and nurses, by Jubilee 2000, by trade unions, by the AIDS Consortium and AIDS Law Project, and by children's rights organizations throughout the country.
In North America, financial contributions can be made through the South Africa Development Fund, 555 Amory St., Boston MA 02130, 617-522-5511, email@example.com; make checks payable to the South Africa Development Fund, and indicate the funds are for the TAC Christopher Moraka Defiance Campaign. According to TAC's October 17 press release, "100% of the donation will go to purchasing and distributing medication via qualified health professionals only, free of charge to patients."
It's time to call an end to the current system where tens of thousands of people must die routinely to protect the profits of giant corporations with the political influence money can buy. We do need patent protection to provide incentive for drug development, but the rules must be changed so that they do not have horrible consequences. That's what the Christopher Moraka Defiance Campaign Against Patent Abuse is about.
ISSN # 1052-4207
Copyright 2000 by John S. James. Permission granted for noncommercial reproduction, provided that our address and phone number are included if more than short quotations are used.
Back to the AIDS Treatment News October 20, 2000 contents page.