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