[Ip-health] Merck pharmagate protest in London

Diarmaid McDonald Diarmaid at stopaids.org.uk
Wed Feb 5 04:23:43 PST 2014

AIDS Activists say Merck walking all over South Africans for profit
Wednesday 5th February 2013

Activists wrapped in South African flags lay on the ground at the entrance to the London offices of Merck today, demanding the multinational pharma company drop their opposition to South Africa's plans to improve access to affordable medicines.

Forcing staff to step over them, and past a banner reading, "Merck - ready to walk all over South African's to turn a profit", the activists say they represented the millions of people living in South Africa who are prevented from accessing medicines because of high prices.

A strategy document, leaked last month, revealed Merck as the ringleaders of a secret big-money plot to derail a South African government plan to overhaul the nation's patent laws. The plot - largely financed with big pharma cash from the US - detailed a sophisticated series of actions designed to resemble a political campaign aimed at stopping the reforms from going through.

Drug companies have described the battle to block the reforms as "ground zero" in their global battle to tighten intellectual property law. Across the developing world tighter IP laws have led to higher prices and worsening health outcomes, whereas the pro-health reforms opposed by big pharma have reduced prices and increased access in places like India, Thailand and South America.

Campaigners say the current laws massively prioritise patents and profits over health and prevent millions of people in South African from accessing affordable treatment. Antibiotic Linezolid, for example, is priced at £37 per pill in South Africa, but is available for just £1.37 in India. Diarmaid McDonald from STOPAIDS who took part in the demonstration said,

"Merck and over a dozen other big pharma companies tried to hijack the democratic process in South Africa by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a myth-pedalling campaign to protect their profits at the cost of the lives of people who need access to affordable medicines.

"We're here to demand that they drop this attack on South African's right to health. We call on the South African government to press ahead with these lifesaving reforms. Merck and big pharma must stop trying to walk all over South Africans in order to turn a profit.

"We also call on the UK government to defend South Africa's right to reform their laws for the benefit of their people. This is a perfectly legal move, well within rules agreed by the WHO and WTO, designed to increase access to medicines. With DFID pulling out of South Africa it is even more important the UK defends South Africa when it tries to make these pro-health reforms."

South Africa does not currently review patent applications, leading to more patents being granted there than in either the US or EU. In 2008 alone, 2442 pharmaceutical patents were granted - almost ten times the number granted by Brazil over five years. Many companies make small changes to their drugs and file new patents in order to maintain their South African monopoly in a practice known as 'ever-greening'. By reforming the law South Africa can increase access to affordable medicines in the country where over 5 million people are living with HIV and costs of 2nd and 3rd line treatments which are increasingly needed are still prohibitively high.



·         STOPAIDS is a network of 80 UK agencies working since 1986 to secure an effective global response to HIV and AIDS.

·         The leaked Pharmagate plot documents can be read here: http://cdn.mg.co.za/content/documents/2014/01/16/skmbt36314011511040.pdf

And here: http://keionline.org/sites/default/files/merck-email.pdf

·         The 'Fix the Patent Laws<http://www.fixthepatentlaws.org/>' campaign in South Africa is run by MSF and the Treatment Action Campaign and states: South Africa's current patent laws put the rights of patent-holders before the rights of patients. The law includes all the worst parts from the international TRIPS agreement on trade and intellectual property, but does not include the parts that we can use to make medicines more affordable. The campaign aims to secure reforms so South Africa fully utilises legal flexibilities in the agreement to improve access to medicines there.

Contact: Diarmaid McDonald 07894455781

Diarmaid McDonald
Advocacy Manager

00 44 (0) 20 7324 4785

We've rebranded! STOPAIDS brings together our two previous identities - the UK Consortium on AIDS and International Development and the Stop AIDS Campaign.
As part of its factsheet series, STOPAIDS has partnered with two of its members, WaterAid<http://www.wateraid.org/uk/> and CAFOD<http://www.cafod.org.uk/>, to explore the connections between water, sanitation, hygiene (WASH), HIV and AIDS, and provide recommendations on how HIV interventions can integrate WASH into their programming. Download the factsheet here<http://stopaids.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/STOPAIDS-WASH-and-HIV-factsheet-final.pdf>.

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