March 5th: Day of Global Direct Action for Drug Access
An international coalition of 65 activist groups and over 100 AIDS activists, educators, health care workers and service providers from six continents and many countries around the world today called on GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world's largest drug companies, to withdraw threatened lawsuits in Ghana, Uganda, and South Africa which are intended to block people with AIDS (PWAs) in those countries from having access to generic anti-AIDS medications.
The coalition, led by the Health GAP Coalition, Treatment Action Group (TAG), and Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC), took this action because in November 2000, Glaxo threatened to sue Cipla Ltd. of India, a generic pharmaceutical manufacturer, if Cipla continued to sell its generic drug Duovir, a combination of the AIDS drugs AZT and 3TC (marketed by Glaxo as Combivir).
In addition, Glaxo has joined forty other drug companies in suing the South African government for a 1997 law intended to broaden access to cheap generic drugs in South Africa.
The activists wrote, "We believe that threatening lawsuits to prevent people in poor countries -- already staggering under the weight of the AIDS pandemic, excessive debt to western banks, poverty, and underdevelopment -- from accessing life-saving antiretroviral medications is simply unacceptable from a moral and humanitarian point of view."
Instead, the activists suggested that Glaxo:
- Immediately reduce antiretroviral drug prices to levels affordable in poor countries;
- Match the best generic offering price (Cipla's Duovir sold for $1.72 retail in Ghana);
- Provide free antiretrovirals in drug donation programs; and/or
- Allow poor countries to permit generic manufacturers to make or import the drugs.
TAG Senior Policy Director Mark Harrington said, "We are announcing today a Global Day of Solidarity on March 5, the day when the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of South Africa's lawsuit against legal generic drug access comes before the court in South Africa. On that day, some groups will take direct action against drug companies, pharmaceutical trade organizations, or the U.S. Trade Representative, which has just brought action against Brazil for manufacturing generic antiretrovirals. The program in Brazil is reaching over 85,000 people with AIDS and has saved thousands of lives. No other program -- whether the UNAIDS Accelerating Access initiative or the much-touted, but so far insignificant, discounts announced by five big drug companies last May -- is reaching significant numbers of people with HIV in the world's poorest countries."
The March 5 Global Day of Solidarity was initiated by South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), a grassroots advocacy organization which has been struggling to make anti-AIDS drugs available to South Africa's estimated 4.2 million people living with HIV.