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Mbeki Refuses to Declare Emergency Over Aids


Cape Town, South Africa - South African President Thabo Mbeki on Wednesday said a state of emergency to allow the cheaper supply of HIV/AIDS drugs would not by itself solve the problem of affordable medicines.

Responding to questions in Parliament, Mbeki said as far as the government was aware, there was no country that had declared a national emergency on these grounds.

He said health ministers had also discussed the matter during the 50th session of the World Health Organisation's regional committee for Africa last year, and concluded this was not necessary.

"The declaration of a state of emergency in terms of the constitution is a drastic measure, which entails the curtailment of the provisions of the Bill of Rights.

"It has other complex consequences for the country which are undesirable, especially when there are other ways to achieve the same objective, that is, obtaining affordable access to all medicines," the president said.

Mbeki was responding to Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Tony Leon who asked him to declare a health state of emergency to allow for the supply of cheaper drugs.

Leon said the DA supported government's efforts to import cheaper drugs but urged it to withdraw the Medicines and Related Substances Control Amendment Act which was being used to speed up access to cheaper generic AIDS drugs.

The bill is the subject of court action by the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers' Association (PMA) and 39 local and international pharmaceutical companies, who believe it violates their patent rights.

Meanwhile, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) too has called on Mbeki to take a bold step by declaring HIV/AIDS a national disaster.

"That the epidemic has reached crisis proportion is beyond doubts", said COSAT spokesman Siphiwe Mgcina.

It is estimated that close to 400,000 people have died from AIDS-related diseases in South Africa since 1997.

COSATU believes that declaring HIV/AIDS a national disaster would allow government the space to issue compulsory licences to companies that are prepared to produce generic substitutes.

"Such a move will also boost employment creation in the domestic economy. Declaring a national emergency would also enable government to invoke the TRIPS agreement, which allows for patents to be by-passed in national emergencies," Mgcina said.

Mgcina accused the DA of turning the HIV/AIDS crisis into a political football to score political points against the government.

"The very same DA that today projects itself as a vocal spokesperson on HIV/AIDS rallied in support of the Pharmaceutical companies to oppose the legislation when it was introduced in parliament in 1997.

"The DA also supports the current status quo in the health system and opposes any measure aimed at transforming the health care system to one that benefits every South African not the select few that happen to have medical cover.

"In the long run the health of the nation, particularly the vast majority of poor people, can be improved via an efficient, well-resourced public health care system," the COSATU official added.


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Information in this article was accurate in March 14, 2001. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.