South African Deal on AIDS Drugs Is Praised

Missionary Father Fabio Baldan Sees «Rights Over Profits»

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PRETORIA, South Africa, APR. 23, 2001 (ZENIT.orgFIDES).- The South African government´s deal with 39 pharmaceutical firms to provide AIDS medicine at a low price is «a first step toward a globalization of rights over profits,» a missionary says.

Combonian Father Fabio Baldan assessed the deal in an interview with the Vatican missionary agency Fides. The priest is director of the South African magazine Worldwide.

The pharmaceutical industry had battled to block the implementation of a South African law that would allow officials in the country to buy brand-name drugs at the lowest prices in the world.

The industry dropped its lawsuits. For its part, the South African government agreed to consult the industry when it draws up regulations for the 1997 law, and reiterated its long-stated promise not to breach international trade agreement.

The disputed law stated that the Health Minister «may prescribe conditions for the supply of more affordable medicines in certain circumstances so as to protect the health of the public.» The effects of the law will only be noticeable after several months and may not greatly improve access to HIV drugs in South Africa, believed to have the highest number of infected people in the world.

«The most important thing is that it creates a juridical precedent,» Father Baldan told Fides. «Now, not only South Africa but all developing countries will be able to import and produce drugs to treat AIDS at affordable prices. This is a first step toward the globalization of rights rather than profits.»

Asked about the next difficulty to be overcome in South Africa with regard to HIV/AIDS, the missionary replied that the «next step will be to put the agreement into practice. The drugs will have to be ordered and distributed and this will take time. However, the settlement is a great success; it opens the doors to treatment for millions of HIV/AIDS patients.»

Asked about the relatively little media attention given to malaria and other diseases, which kill still more Africans, he said that the «pharmaceutical industry shows little interest in other diseases. Malaria, for example, is endemic throughout Africa, but the only medicines available on the continent are those suitable for treating foreign tourists, drugs that are of no use to Africa´s millions of chronic sufferers.»

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