[Access to drugs is THE topic at the Durban AIDS conference. To get a flavour,
here's a brief description on some of the events taking place yesterday, as
by one of the nearly 1000 journalists here.
Full coverage at the conference website: www.aids2000.com
Drug companies face wrath of Aids activists
OWN CORRESPONDENT, Durban
MAJOR international pharmaceuticals and UNAIDS on Monday faced the wrath of
Aids activists who claimed the companies' programmes for cheaper Aids
medication were appalling.
Activists, journalists and pharmaceutical companies clashed during a media
briefing at the 13th International Aids conference which started in Durban
The price of Aids medication, unaffordable to millions of people, is
expected to be one of the most important debates at the conference.
Representatives for the international activist group Act Up demanded to
know when the price of drugs would come down, saying that promises for
cheaper drugs had been made for very long, without any concrete action
taken by either UNAIDS of the the pharmaceuticals.
They also said pharmaceutical companies should be making donations
involving millions of dollars to poor countries to purchase drugs. It is
estimated that 95% of Aids sufferers do not have access to drugs to fight
the disease, resulting in millions of people dying without any hope of
The cheapest drugs available to Africa cost about US1 000 per person per
year. Most Africans live on less than one US1 a day.
South African High Court judge Edwin Cameron, during an earlier address to
the conference, also criticised pharmaceuticals and major corporations for
failing millions of Africans because their only goal was to make a profit
and to further enrich shareholders.
Act Up and other groups such as Treatment Action campaign have for the past
two years spearheaded the fight to demand cheaper drugs. When the
pharmaceuticals got the chance to speak in their defence, they said,
contrary to popular belief, they were just as committed as everybody else
to fight the Aids pandemic.
Merck Executive director for public affairs Jeffrey Sturchio said his
company had already given a committment to lower the prices of drugs. "What
we are trying to do is to work constructively with governments," he said.
Glaxo Wellcome medical director for sub-Saharan Africa Peter Moore said his
company's policy over the past four years was to negotiate for preferential
prices to reduce the price of drugs such as AZT.
They were currently in discussion with government to form a multisectoral
partnership. The group of Aids acitivists, however, continued their attack
on the pharmaceuticals and UNAIDS for their failure to involve generic
companies in the fight against Aids.
It was stated that in countries like Cote d' Ivoire, the price of drugs had
fallen by 40% because of competition between pharmaceuticals and generic
Act Up said there was no other solution but for the production of generics
by local industries. The press conference at one stage turned into a
spectacle with Marie Coll-Seck of UNAIDS having to shout to make herself
While activists fought over the microphone in a bid to ask questions or to
make angry statements, journalists were upset because they did not get any
chance to ask questions.
Coll-Seck, defending the recently announced programme between five UN
agencies and five pharmaceuticals to engage in dialogue for better care,
said access to affordable treatment was a priority.
She said she could understand why activists were angry and she also
understood that there was a need for a speedy solution, but there were a
lot of people who had to be consulted.
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