African bishops back import of cheaper drugs to fight AIDS
Southern Africa's Catholic bishops have supported efforts to import cheaper, generic (non-branded) drugs to fight South Africa's epidemic of HIV-AIDS.
The Tablet reports that in a landmark court case that began last week in the capital, Pretoria, 39 multinational pharmaceutical companies are challenging the validity of a new law which allows the South African Government to import cheaper, generic versions of drugs. The companies say that they object to the violation of patent rights, and are concerned that the generic drugs imported under the law would be of inferior quality.
Commenting on the dilemma posed by the case, the president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, was adamant there was no choice.
"We cannot go on with business as usual when HIV-Aids is wreaking havoc in our communities, especially amongst the young," he said. "To prevent the provision of cheap or free anti-retroviral treatment and treatment for opportunistic diseases related to Aids by insisting on patent rights, is indefensible."
It 'verged on the criminal' that the pharmaceutical companies should seek to prevent cheaper Aids treatment to the poor and those most severely affected by HIV-Aids, he said.
Southern African bishops say that of the nearly five million people living with HIV in South Africa today, only a tiny minority can afford the drugs that enable their counterparts in rich countries to survive longer, and have implored the drugs' manufacturers not to put profit above human life.