The decision by 39 pharmaceutical companies to drop a historic case in South Africa has far-reaching consequences for India and other developing countries, according to leading non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The 39 companies had challenged a South African government order that legalized use and import of generic medicines free from patents. The pharmaceutical companies, which include some of the biggest in the world, had challenged the order on the ground that it violates their intellectual property rights (IPR) under the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The move by the firms to back off is "a victory for millions of poor people in South Africa and around the world," said an Oxfam spokesman. Oxfam, a major Britain-based NGO, has been in the forefront of moves to oppose the drug companies. "The fight to provide all poor people with access to cheap medicines continues," he added.
"The drug giants seem to have listened to reason in this case, which is good news for AIDS sufferers in South Africa," said Oxfam director of policy Justin Forsyth. "What we must see now is pressure being brought on the WTO to change the trade rules which prevent poor people buying life-saving medicines."
The move was welcomed also by ACTSA (Action for South Africa), which led the campaign against drug companies in Britain. The development holds promise for all developing countries, a spokeswoman said.
NGOs are now preparing to fight the fundamental WTO rules. "The fight to change the WTO rules is far from over," said Forsyth. "Brazil could become the next country which has to fight for its right to care for its sick and dying people against the global pharmaceutical industry backed by the U.S. government," added Forsyth.
Nelson Mandela had introduced the Medicines Act 1997, which the drug companies had sought to challenge in South Africa. Mandela is hailing the move as the second successful revolution.
groups in Britain are now rising to support what is developing into a legal revolution against drug apartheid. Street power is giving way to Internet power to make opposition known. Close to a million signed an Internet petition in support of the South Africa government.
Ellen't Hoen, coordinator of the Globalization Project for MSF's (Medicines Sans Frontieres) Access to Essential Medicines Campaign said: "This case has struck a chord with people around the world because it exposes the lengths that the industry will go to protect its patents and profits, despite the immense human cost. There have been demonstrations from Pretoria to New York, from Copenhagen to Manila, demanding access to lifesaving medicines for South Africa."
The Indian government has been seeking to make a strong case against patents for life-saving medicines. The victory in Pretoria has been hailed as a victory for the whole of the developing world.
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