E-DRUG: Mbeki: Health for the Poor is a Fundamental Human Right
[Taken from ANC Today (2-8 March, 2001), Online publication of the African
National Congress (http://www.anc.org.za/) copied as fair use. WB]
Health for the Poor is a Fundamental Human Right
South African President, Thabo Mbeki
ANC Today, 2-8 March, 2001
In the seven years since our liberation, perhaps the most contentious issues to
which our country has been exposed have related to health.
These have arisen out of the legislation enabling us to acquire affordable
drugs and medicine and the questions we posed on HlV/AIDS.
The fact that health assumes such prominence in the public discourse confirms
the objective importance of the issue of health in our continuing struggle for
a better life for all.
In terms of the programme of action of our government, we are all called upon
to join in united action to mount an all-round response to the problems of
health that face especially the millions of poor people in our country.
That response requires that we attend to a number of things. Central to these
is the fight against poverty.
It includes such matters as ensuring that our people have access to nutritious
food, clean water, modern sanitation and a clean and healthy environment.
These are important elements of primary health care. However, that primary
health care also includes access to basic medical services, including
affordable drugs and medicines.
The government must work to address all these needs in an integrated manner.
Among other things, this will require that we increase the numbers of people
with appropriate types and levels of training deployed to work among the people
at the grassroots level, such as community health workers.
One of the tasks of these workers would be to conduct an educational campaign
among the people dealing with a whole variety of questions, such as the
importance of using clean water to avoid various illnesses as well as the need
to use condoms, to deal with the serious problem of sexually transmitted
Once again, popular organisations, including the ANC and the Leagues, will have
to mobilise their members to act in support of these community workers in the
interest of the masses of the people.
These organisations will also have to join in the campaign to eradicate the
theft of drugs, medicines and equipment from our public health institutions.
In addition to everything we have said, the issue of affordable drugs and
medicines also remains central to our efforts to achieve the objective of
health for all.
In this context, we must express our sincere appreciation to the US
pharmaceutical company, Pfizer, which has decided to make one of its drugs
available to our people for two years, free of charge.
In addition to this, the company will also provide funds both to train medical
workers to dispense this drug and to purchase the equipment enabling these
workers to carry out the necessary medical tests on patients.
The acquisition of the drug alone, at no cost, will enable the public health
service to save R350 million a year.
All this constitutes a practical example of what can be done jointly by the
public and private sectors to address the life and death question of improving
the health of those who are poor.
We recognise the fact that there is an inherent contradiction between the
pursuit of the goal of health for the poor, to which our government is firmly
committed, and the pursuit of profit, which is the goal of every commercial
Among others, the truth of this proposition is illustrated by the fact that
grossly inadequate resources are committed to the development of drugs and
medicines to fight diseases of poverty and underdevelopment.
Accordingly, a permanent struggle between the masses of the people and the
pharmaceutical companies cannot be avoided unless everybody concerned,
including the developed countries, accepts that it is possible to address both
the needs of the poor and the imperatives of normal commercial activity.
Given the now universal recognition of the challenge of the global eradication
of poverty, the need to bridge the divides between the rich and the poor,
between the North and the South, and the importance of health to the urgent
challenge of economic development, it should be possible to come to a common
position that health for the poor is a fundamental human right.
The effort must continue for the attainment of this position and, consequently,
the development of sustained health campaigns radically to improve the health
of the majority of the people in our country and the rest of the world.
It is unfortunate that this matter of human rights, human dignity and life
itself, should have ended up in our courts, as though it would ever constitute
an act of justice if we were to adopt laws that make it difficult for us to
achieve the objective of health for a11.
Nevertheless, as before, we will respect whatever decision is ultimately handed
down by our judiciary.
This statement was signed by President Thabo Mbeki
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