The Guardian May 2, 2001


South Africa: COSATU statement on HIV/AIDS

At its meeting on April 26, COSATU's Central Executive Committee (CEC) 
described the victory against the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers' Association 
(PMA) as a critical step toward establishing a legal framework for making 
medicines in South Africa affordable. It was also an important victory of 
activists, poor people and people with HIV/AIDS over corporate abuse of 
power, the CEC said in a statement issued after the meeting.

The PMA had taken the South African Government to court to try to prevent 
it implementing legislation to make it possible to provide the poor of 
South Africa with affordable medicines. Under immense public pressure, the 
pharmaceutical companies withdrew their case.

The CEC recognised that this victory was only possible because of a 
superbly organised global effort and the dedication of thousands of 
volunteers. COSATU congratulated and thanked all their allies and 
supporters for their contributions.

There is still a long battle ahead before affordable medicines are 
accessible to all those who need them.

"If steps are not taken immediately to implement the Medicines and Related 
Substances Amendment Act, the victory could prove to be a hollow one", the 
CEC said.

"The whole of civil society has to share the responsibility for taking the 
campaign forward" the statement said.

"COSATU demands that employers, especially the big corporations, provide 
free treatment to those of their workers and their families who are living 
with HIV/AIDS. We also demand that insurance companies, banks and medical 
aid schemes end all discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS.

"But the government has a special responsibility to give a lead. COSATU 
will be government's firmest supporter when it does the right thing, such 
as introducing the Medicines Act, but we will be its sternest critic if it 
fails to meet its constitutional duties to protect life and dignity."

COSATU said that the government must:

* Immediately implement the Medicines Act;
* Immediately promulgate the regulations required under the Act;
* Begin implementing a countrywide mother-to-child transmission programme 
without further unnecessary delays;
* Immediately apply for voluntary licences on essential generic 
medicines;
* Invest more money into AIDS prevention programmes and include 
treatment as part of the prevention message;

Develop a treatment plan by June 16 which will outline how treatment will 
be made accessible to all South Africans with HIV/AIDS, opportunistic and 
sexually transmitted diseases, and will commit the government to increased 
health-care spending.

Linked to these measures, the government must urgently introduce a 
comprehensive social security system, to end the poverty and hunger which 
contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS and makes its treatment far more 
difficult.

"An important lesson from the PMA court case has been that global 
solidarity on social issues is immensely powerful. We would not have won so 
easily and quickly without global mobilisation. Issues of concern to all 
poor countries must be combated with a united front", COSATU said.

The next big battle is Brazil's legal battle in the World Trade 
Organisation with the United States pharmaceutical companies who want to 
stop the Brazilian Government doing the same as the South African 
Government is trying to do.

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