Medical Apartheid in South Africa

Demonstration at Bayer´s plant in Berkeley, March 5th

Statement of Maudelle Shirek, Vice Mayor of Berkeley
Ten years ago I worked hard to keep the Bayer plant with its unionized jobs at its present West Berkeley location. Twenty years ago I campaigned for the anti-apartheid cause. Now I ask your assistance in aiding the movement against medical apartheid in South Africa as practiced by Bayer Corporation and 41 other large pharmaceutical companies. We seek to change Bayer’s foreign policy and can begin on March 5.

In 1997 Nelson Mandela signed the Medicines Control Act. The Act allowed South Africa to declare medical emergencies and produce its own generic AIDS drugs or import said drugs at the lowest market price. In early 1998 42 pharmaceutical companies filed suit against the government of South Africa to nullify important portions of the Act.

Three years later on March 5, oral arguments begin in the Pretoria High Court. During this time over 400,000 South Africans have died of AIDS. The former Canadian UN Ambassador, Stephen Lewis, has called this and other pharmaceutical actions, “mass murder.”

Pharmaceutical CEOs and US government officials who do their bidding at the WTO would have us believe that there’s not much that can be done. Though both groups have made high sounding speeches and press releases concening the epidemic, real action has been minimal. At present only 0.2% of the 4.3 million infected South Africans can afford Western triple therapy. Roughly the same percentage holds for the 26 million infected Africans.

Solutions cannot be found in pharmaceutical corporate board rooms where the profit motive is more sacred than ameliorating suffering or saving lives. However, solutions are coming from the countries of Brazil, India and Thailand.

Two weeks ago Cipla, an Indian pharmaceutical manufacturer, offered to sell a triple therapy to the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders for $350 a year per person. The offer would be $600 for governments. Cipla is making a profit at these prices. One can imagine the obscene profit made by Western companies who charge $11,000 for the same triple therapy.

In 1998 the Brazilian government began maufacture of 7 AIDS drugs and provides a higher quality triple therapy at no cost to over 100,000 people. The original cost was $4500 per person, which is now $3000 and expected to drop to less than $700. Brazil says it is saving money through the free program due to decreased expenses in AIDS care, hospitalization and disability payments.

By the way on February 1, the US government filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization to stop Brazil from producing any new AIDS drugs. This is part of the Western pharmaceutical giants’ plan to export their monopolies.

Brazil has offered to share its technology and medical distribution system at no cost to countries willing to distribute free AIDS drugs. This is important becuase South Africa is one of the few African countries that actually has the infrastructure necessary to produce such drugs.

Last week the hunger relief group, Oxfam, began a corporate campaign against Glaxo to drop from the lawsuit and provide treatments affordable to Africans. ACT UP activists occupied a Glaxo office in New York. A priest in Kenya began openly, though illegally, puchasing treatments from Cipla for 70 children in the orphanage he runs. Cipla charges $20 a month per child. Western companies would charge an unsustainable $500.

At noon, Monday, March 5 we in Berkeley will demonstrate our disgust and demand that Bayer drop out of the lawsuit against South Africa. We will rally and I will lead a small group in a peaceful sit in of civil disobedience at Bayer’s front gates, Seventh and Parker Streets.

Please come show your love for the people of South Africa and support those who choose to face arrest. Endorsers include Councilmembers Worthington, Spring and Maio, San Francisco’s Tom Ammiano and Matt Gonzalez, Global Exchange and Cal medical ethics professor, Dr. Jeffrey Burack, who also treats AIDS patients in Berkeley.

We must demand that the profit-mad pharmaceutical companies change their foreign policy and fast.

March 5 info: 510-568-1680 website: