TAC hits out at Pharmagate

Johannesburg - An alleged campaign planned by multinational pharmaceutical companies against proposed South African patent laws was met with outrage by rights groups Section27 and the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) on Friday.

TAC general secretary Vuyiseka Dudula said in a statement: "We're outraged over what appears to be a covert and well-funded plan from the foreign pharmaceutical industry to delay an essential law reform process in South Africa."

Protection

The groups were reacting to a report in the Mail&Guardian about an alleged plot drawn up by lobby group Public Affairs Engagement (PAE) on behalf of a number of multinational drug companies operating in South Africa, represented by the Innovative Pharmaceutical Association of SA (Ipasa).

According to the report, a document penned by the PAE detailed a plan to fight the trade and industry department's Intellectual Property Policy.

The section of this draft legislation relating to health reportedly aimed at weakening protection for drug patents, which would drive down prices for a range of medications, including antiretrovirals and tuberculosis treatment.

Dudula called for the policy to be finalised and released as soon as possible.

"Any further delays are unacceptable and will have far reaching impact on the provision of public health.

"We will not allow foreign industry to derail this national process, especially in such a secret and underhanded way."

Genocide

Section27 also condemned the alleged plot, saying the PAE and Ipasa sought to "undermine the progress being made to protect public health through covert and anti-democratic action.

"It is critical that all progressive activists, academics, business, regional institutions and governments across the developed and developing world speak out against such underhanded tactics by these companies."

The Mail&Guardiam reported that Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi regarded the drug companies' planned campaign as "genocide".

"This document can sentence many South Africans to death," he was quoted as saying.

"That is no exaggeration. This is a plan for genocide."

The Mail&Guardian reported that PAE's response sought to direct the nature of public discourse around the policy through a massive public relations exercise directed from outside the country.

The PAE plan intended to send the message that the policy could threaten investment and have negative economic and social consequences.

Ipasa reportedly told the newspaper it would encourage open debate on the proposed legislation.

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