More than 500 activists will demonstrate at the Glaxo SmithKline headquarters in an early morning protest in Philadelphia, then join hundreds more in Washington, DC for a rally and march from Bristol Myers-Squibb's Washington DC offices to the White House (Lafayette Park side) and PhRMA, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturer's Association. Protests are also scheduled in Boston, New York City, San Francisco, Toronto and Vancouver, as well as in Australia, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Italy, Philippines, Thailand, South Africa and other locations.
Since the suit was filed in Medicines Act in 1997, blocking its implementation, 400,000 South Africans have died of AIDS. If implemented, the Medicines Act would allow South Africa to dramatically increase access to affordable medications, including life-extending HIV medications, acquired as low-cost quality generic drugs, and/or through mechanisms of parallel importation and compulsory licensing.
Activists contend that, with over 30 million people facing death from untreated HIV disease worldwide, the pharmaceutical industry lawsuit lodged against the South African government is unconscionable. "Current pricing policies leave millions to die. But even the drug companies themselves now admit that they could make these drugs available without losing money," said Asia Russell of ACT UP Philadelphia.
During a recent release of earnings reports, investment analysts noted that Glaxo and other multinational companies could ship drugs at cost to developing nations at no financial hardship Û Africa constitutes only 1.3% of the global pharmaceutical market. "Maintaining patent monopolies and obstructing generic access in countries where industry has no plans to sell drugs is premeditated murder," said Paul Davis of ACT UP.
Due to the high cost of pharmaceuticals, almost no South Africans have access to the medicines that are greatly extending lives in the United States. Generic competition has been proven to result in broad, sustained drug price drops.
Said ACT UP's John Bell: "It's not 1997 anymore. World opinion has changed Ò we no longer write off the lives of millions infected with HIV worldwide. And broad access to generics is the cornerstone of bringing medication in reach of these people. Those of us living with HIV in the United States are standing with South African people with HIV to fight for the lives of its 4.2 million people who are infected.
"These drug companies have the audacity to sue Nelson Mandela and the government of South Africa for attempting to extend affordable medication to millions of people who otherwise face a death sentence," said ACT UP's Shahiid Robinson.
ACT UP Background and Demands:
GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a lead plaintiff on the lawsuit, controls more than one-third of the HIV antiviral drug market, and has been cited by numerous public health, relief, and charitable agencies, including Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders for their persistent use of stall tactics, litigation, and threats in order to maintain high AIDS drug prices despite the unrelenting global pandemic.
Activists are also targeting the company is for its attack on Cipla, a generic drug manufacturer in India. Two weeks ago, Cipla offered triple combination therapy to relief organizations for $350 per year. The same medicines cost almost $15,000 per year in the United States. GSK threatened Cipla with legal action last November when Ghana imported a supply of generic anti-HIV medicines. GSK claimed Cipla violated their patent rights by selling the generic drug. But according to local patent officials, the drug in question could not have been patented by GlaxoSmithKline, as the relevant patents were filed before Ghana had a domestic pharmaceutical patent law.
GSK, as well as Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), a second major plaintiff, have consistently used delay tactics to discourage initiatives that would reduce its prices. In May 2000, with a huge amount of publicity, pharmaceutical companies including GSK announced that they would provide AIDS drugs at deep discounts to African nations. However, these plans amount to treatment for only about 2,500 of the 36 million people now living with AIDS.
During a recent meeting, JP Garnier, GSK's Chief Executive, asserted that the existing access programs amounted to only "a drop in the bucket" but announced that the world would have to wait until July 2001 for the company's new access plan. Activists note that worldwide people with AIDS are dying at a rate of one million every four months.
According to ACT UP's Mark Milano, "The company has one priority: its shareholders and its quarterly reports. The next time that GSK or BMS announce their financial results, they should include this number: one million people died of AIDS each quarter while the company continued its deadly campaign against generic drug access." The activists are demonstrating in support of the South African Government's position in the court case, and also to protest fraudulent extensions of patented drugs in the United States.
BMS, for example, has obtained a bogus 30-month patent extension on buspirone (BuSpar), a drug commonly used by seniors and people with AIDS, by filing for a new patent on the drug metabolite produced in the human body. Bristol-Myers Squibb has made $2.6 billion in profits from buspirone since 1986. The application was filed on the last day of the drug's 20-year patent, while a low cost generic version of the drug was already waiting on shipping docks. Pharmaceutical companies are increasingly manipulating regulatory processes to gain extensions on patent monopolies in the United States, and AIDS activists warn that they may propose extensions on US drug patents as enticement to reduce efforts to limit AIDS drug access elsewhere.
For the Drug Companies:
1) Drop the lawsuit against the South African government.
2) Cease all efforts to block access to generics where branded drugs aren't
available or priced out of reach of people with AIDS
3) Stop pushing through groundless patent extensions to lengthen patent
monopolies in primary market countries
4) Issue voluntary licenses to other companies, non-profits or governments
to facilitate production of drugs if they are not otherwise available to all
people with HIV in a country.
For the Bush Administration:
1) Immediately issue a strong statement condemning the drug company lawsuit
against South Africa
2) Drop the WTO dispute against Brazil regarding Brazil's domestic patent
law, and cease pushing for higher intellectual property protections in the
Free Trade Act of the Americas (FTAA), which would further restrict drug
3) Direct the Treasury Secretary to demand immediate and full cancellation
of multilateral debt in countries hard hit by HIV, using the existing funds
of the international financial institutions such as the IMF and World Bank.
Dedicate funds to stemming the global epidemic.
4) Provide funds and support for large-scale programs of bulk drug
procurement. The medicines should be purchased at best world prices,
regardless of patent status. The drugs should be distributed for free
through existing and enhanced distribution networks.
5) Publicly restate that the US Government will retain the current trade
policy that does not require impoverished countries to exceed WTO-mandated
patent protections on pharmaceuticals, and clarify that this policy is not
limited to sub-Saharan African countries nor to antiretroviral medication.