[Ip-health] Motsoaledi: Big pharma's 'satanic' plot is genocide
lotti.rutter at mail.tac.org.za
Thu Jan 16 21:18:26 PST 2014
Motsoaledi: Big pharma's 'satanic' plot is genocide
Health minister Aaron Motsoaledi is livid about a pharmaceutical company
campaign he says will restrict access to crucial drugs.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has accused a group of multinational
pharmaceutical companies active in South Africa of conspiring against the
state, the people of South Africa and the populations of developing
countries – and of planning what amounts to mass murder.
"I am not using strong words; I am using appropriate words. This is
genocide," Motsoaledi told the Mail & Guardianon Thursday, in response to a
plan he described as a conspiracy of "satanic magnitude" – a plan he called
on all South Africans to fight "to the last drop of their blood".
The plan in question is a nine-page document obtained independently this
week by both the M&G and the department of health, blandly titled Campaign
to Prevent Damage to Innovation from the Proposed Draft National IP Policy
in South Africa.
- Read the full document
But the contents have Motsoaledi spitting fire and nongovernmental
organisations (NGOs) deeply concerned, and its disclosure will likely lead
to open war between the various parties – a conflict that all sides believe
will have inevitable consequences for the long-term health and wealth of a
significant fraction of the world's population.
The war has been brewing for years, but was brought to a head in September
last year when the department of trade and industry published a draft
framework for a new policy on intellectual property (IP), including patents
over life-saving drugs.
Much to the delight of organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières
(MSF), the government's draft policy focuses heavily on health, and on
reform in the treatment of medical patents. Drug companies with local
operations were appalled and, evidence suggests, almost immediately started
work on a plan to change the direction of the policy radically. Instead of
weaker protections for valuable drug patents, they sought stronger
By last week that plan had become concrete. The drug companies' umbrella
body, the Innovative Pharmaceutical Association of South Africa (Ipasa),
selected a Washington, DC-based, lobbying firm Public Affairs Engagement
(PAE) to lead the charge against the policy. PAE, in turn, put forward a
proposal on how it would effect radical changes to the policy. And it is
that plan – apparently yet to be implemented – that had Motsoaledi
incandescent with anger.
"This document can sentence many South Africans to death," he said. "That
is no exaggeration. This is a plan for genocide."
In coming months, the document shows, PAE intends to launch a persuasive
campaign throughout Africa and in Europe. It does not speak of genocide or
of withholding affordable drugs from the people who most need them.
Instead, it is aimed at indirectly convincing the South African government
to strengthen, rather than weaken, patent protection for crucial drugs.
Although the plan contains no hint of crude attempts to buy influence
directly, and comes nowhere near suggesting means illegal or corrupt, it
contains elements sure to raise eyebrows. These include:
- Setting up a "coalition" with an innocuous name such as "Forward South
Africa", which will be directed from Washington while appearing to be
- Encouraging other African countries, especially Rwanda and Tanzania,
to help to convince South Africa that it could lose its leadership role on
the continent should it push ahead with the draft policy;
- Distracting NGOs from their own lobbying by changing the nature of the
- Commissioning "independent" research and opinion pieces for broad
public dissemination – but vetting all such material before publication to
ensure it fits the message.
But the net effect, Motsoaledi said, would be to put corporate profits
before health – not only in South Africa, but also around the globe.
"This is using South Africa as an entry point, but this is an attack on
Brazil, an attack on India … an attack on China, Russia and the whole
developing world," he said.
Should the campaign succeed, he said, South Africa would not be able to
afford a planned expansion of its antiretroviral (ARV) provision to people
living with HIV. Drugs effective against cancer and tuberculosis would
remain too expensive to do any good, and other countries (such as 14
African countries intent on following South Africa's lead on ARVs) would
Motsoaledi vowed that no amount of lobbying would change the minds of
Cabinet ministers, but said that was not the intent of the PAE plan.
"They are not hoping to influence government; they are hoping to influence
society to turn against government. If you read carefully what they are
saying, they want to prove to patients that the lack of access to medicine
has nothing to do with IP but everything to do with the incompetence of the
Such an approach, he said, sought to make HIV-positive people revolt. An
argument that weak intellectual property protections would "chase away
investors", meanwhile, was aimed at a large portion of the country, the
"Anyone who is unemployed, and there are millions of them, can get into
this war," he said.
The argument that PAE proposes to put forward on behalf of the drug
companies is somewhat less pointed.
"Mobilise voices inside and outside South Africa to send the message that
the proposed IP policy threatens continued investment and thus economic and
social wellbeing," it says in a segment of the document summarising the
strategy and message. "This mobilisation will occur through an energetic
campaign, which will feel like a political campaign."
But that campaign would have elements that could, at best, be seen as
Forward South Africa (FSA), the proposed public face of the campaign, for
instance, would be "led by a visible South African, most likely a respected
former government official, business leader or academic". But, at the same
time, it would be "directed by staff from Public Affairs Engagement and
PAE's South African partner".
Nothing in the document suggests that the funding for FSA – estimated at
$100 000 from Ipasa and another $450 000 from an American association of
pharmaceutical companies – would be disclosed.
Ipsa, asked whether the FSA campaign would in effect be covert, this week
issued a carefully worded written response. "We would encourage all
interested parties to be open in their support both for and against
positions adopted in the debate over policy direction and choices," said
chief operating officer Val Beaumont.
"By its nature, any coalition conducting public advocacy would be acting in
the public domain, with its positions transparent and open to full public
That is unlikely to be universally accepted. MSF this week described the
planned campaign as a "covert attempt by the multinational pharmaceutical
companies to spend extraordinary amounts of money to interfere in South
Africa's legislative process".
The Treatment Action Campaign said the entire attempt is "very suspicious".
Although the first phase of the plan was due to be implemented this week,
Ipasa said it was still evaluating many proposals.
"While we have not contracted outside parties to assist us, Ipasa is
considering various communication strategies and proposals to augment our
ongoing policy advocacy and communications outreach concerning the draft
policy," Beaumont said.
PAE's proposed local partner, lobbyist Abdul Waheed Patel from the Cape
Town-based Ethicore Political Consulting firm, said his company had been
approached by PAE and had "responded positively", but had not yet been
Both the South African Institute for Race Relations and the Free Market
Foundation, cited as possible constituents of the "Forward South Africa"
front, said they were aware of lobbying but not about the specific plan –
and would not be willing pawns in it.
"We act independently and do not join groups if that means adopting some
form of party line," the foundation said.
PAE did not respond to detailed questions about its involvement in South
Africa or the plan to influence the government's IP policy on
pharmaceuticals. Instead, it issued a short statement that punted the need
for a thorough discussion of policy on intellectual property, which
contradicted documents seen by the M&G.
PAE is headed by former US ambassador James Glassman, who held several
high-ranking government positions before spending four years as the
executive director of the George W Bush Institute, where he was involved in
building a library and museum dedicated to the former president.
Although the M&G understands that Ipasa set out to find a consultancy to
advance its agenda, PAE said it had come up with the idea itself.
"When ambassador Glassman learned in September of the proposed IP policy in
South Africa, he contacted potential clients," the PAE statement read. "As
of today [Wednesday], PAE has not been engaged by any client for an
education campaign in South Africa."
Motsoaledi, however, seems unlikely to wait for such a contract to be
entered into. Although organisations such as MSF, the TAC and generic
medicine manufacturers said they could not match the resources of the
pharmaceutical industry, the health minister pledged to throw the weight of
the government behind a countercampaign of its own.
"We will resort to public engagement," he said. "We will say in public:
'These are the conspirators.'"
He said his department will also call on companies, business associations,
academics, politicians and the media to disavow the PAE plan publicly.
The policy that has the drug companies spooked
On September 4 2013, the trade and industry department published a
long-awaited draft of a national policy on intellectual property in
Gazette. To the casual reader, it was a fairly standard example of boring
bureaucratic process. Read from the perspective of a multinational drug
company, it was a nightmare.
"The IP [intellectual property] draft is written in vague language, but
there is no doubting its intent," summarised Washington-based lobby group
Public Affairs Engagement in its plan to reverse the policy.
"It justifies a weak IP regime that allows the government to abridge
intellectual property rights that are well established in the developed
world. The health section of the draft takes dead aim at innovative
That analysis is well founded.
Though the policy framework deals with a wide range of intellectual
property and its application to everything from agriculture to science, it
dwells on the issue of access to medicine at almost every turn.
It is suspicious of multinational companies and the multilateral
organisations sympathetic to them, encourages seeking advice from
nongovernmental organisations rather than developed countries, and urges
policymakers to put the interests of consumers first, rather than the
interests of intellectual property "producers".
In a framework for policy, the department notes and recommends, among other
- Provision should be made for the compulsory licensing of crucial drugs
at the lower of two typical rates of payment. This would allow the state to
assign the right to make a drug to a third party with only limited
compensation to the owner;
- Provision should be made for the parallel importation of drugs. This
denies drug companies the opportunity to charge more for a drug in South
African than elsewhere in the world because it could be imported from the
lower-price territory, whether the patent owner approved or not;
- Patents for drugs should be conditional on an examination to ensure
that the drug is new or innovative, and should not be automatically granted;
- Generally, "patent flexibility" for medicine should be made a matter
- The holders of intellectual property rights, such as drug companies,
should be encouraged to protect their own rights rather than depending on
state institutions, such as the police or customs, to do so; and
- South Africa should seek to influence the region, and the world, to
move towards its vision of intellectual property protection.
The draft does not yet have any status as policy, and was open for public
comment. To what extent those comments, including submissions from
pharmaceutical companies, may sway the department is not yet known. The
department was this week still processing responses.
But the local subsidiaries of drug companies are taking no chances on that
"Without a vigorous campaign, opponents of strong IP will prevail," wrote
the American lobbyists hired to launch a countercampaign, "not just in
South Africa, but eventually in much of the rest of the developing world."
Policy, Communications and Research
Treatment Action Campaign
Tel: 021 422 1700
Cell: 081 818 8493
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