1.What is HIV?

2.Will the Medicine and Substance Control Act mean more affordable health care

3.So why did the Pharmaceutical companies challenge the Act?
4.Cheap or free drugs by Anglo and SACOB



Below we reprint an article of which we have distributed 20 000 copies. The article deserves, we think, to be distributed much more widely than this but we are limited by lack of resources. We appeal for assistance in helping to get our message out as widely as possible. We have updated the article, due to the situation actually being worse than what we first thought, and felt it necessary to include some introductory remarks. These deal with some areas not covered in the article.

Why is the government dragging its heals about implementing even a limited national treatment programme?The answer lies in the whole structure of the drug industry. We have always argued that prices in the period of imperialism in decay, have no relation to the real value of goods. The price of medicine is a classic case of this.

The annual sale of drugs worldwide, amount to $400 Billion per annum. To date, over 23 million people have died worldwide from Aids, making it the worst epidemic ever, in recorded history. Yet the amount of sales for Aids drugs worldwide comes to $3,8 Billion per annum. Of this, 90% of Aids drug sales occur in France, USA, Italy, Germany and Britain. The sales of drugs for baldness, obesity and skin care amounts to much more than the total sales for Aids drugs worldwide!

Let us turn now to the price of the Aids drugs: For example, stavudine [also called Zerit] costs $3400 [about R27200] per year in the US, yet its ingredients cost only $23 [less than R200]. Cipla in India is prepared to sell the treatment for only [!] 100% profit, ie for $40 per annum. There are similar price structures for other Aids drugs like combivir, etc. But how do the drug companies manage to charge such huge prices, when the real cost is virtually nothing? They do this through the system of patenting. They register a product, and no one can produce it for the next 20 years.

Over this period, only the ‘owner’ of the product, can charge what they like. The World Trade Organisation [WTO] polices the ‘ownership’ of a whole range of products and heavy penalties are imposed for anyone who dares defy them. Most of the Aids drugs are recently patented and the drug monopolies are determined that they make their super profits for this period, irrespective of the loss of human life! The WTO is thus the instrument of the drug monopolies to profiteer from the sickness of others. [The WTO protects the profits of capitalism-imperialism across all industries, but we deal with the drug industry here by way of illustration] What is happening to the Aids drugs has been happening to all medicines over the years. Zantac, the drug for ulcers cost $9000 [R72 000] when it was under patent. Now, it is still expensive, but is sold for a fraction of this price.

Africa accounts for only 1,3% of all drug sales per annum across the world. So why would it matter? Even if the Aids drugs were given away free to all those infected in Africa, this would hardly dent the profits of the drug monopolies. The answer is quite simply: If it became known that the drug companies were making such super-profits from the Aids drugs, there would be a massive pressure on them to reduce their prices in their main markets.

The SA govt, wrongly, it is clear, has become known internationally as some sort of champion against the drug companies. Whatever happens in South Africa is keenly watched by anti-Aids activists and many of the millions of HIV+ people currently in treatment across the world. The SA govt is doing the drug monopolies a favour by taking the heat from the masses, by not doing anything substantial to treat the Aids pandemic. In fact, by their actions, they are making the drug companies look like good Samaritans, only too willing to help, even offering to give the treatment away for free!

Nowhere in the world is there truly free treatment for Aids. It is all controlled or limited by the main drug monopolies. In Brasil, free treatment is only given to 85 000 of the over 500 000 who are HIV+. The Brasilian govt and local drug companies are prevented from producing some drugs that are on patent and have to comply soon with the WTO regulations. The Indian govt does not provide free Aids treatment, and the local drug monopolies, like Cipla, still profiteer immensely from undercutting the larger multinationals. Companies like Cipla, also work hand in hand with the drug giants. More than 60% of the raw materials for the drugs, and often the finished products, sold by the US drug multinationals are imported from India, Thailand, etc.

Thus companies like Cipla have a huge stake in not rocking the boat so far as challenging the international drug cartel. Due to mass pressure in various neo-colonial countries, the drug cartel has allowed a limited token distribution of medicines for Aids treatment.

We come now to the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) and the Cosatu leadership. Both are fully aware of the statistics and operation of the international drug monopoly. Yet, they do not use this to expose the drug cartel and the role that the SA govt is playing in collusion with these druglords. They are playing exactly the same role as the NGO’s worldwide, providing a pressure valve for the horrors of capitalist exploitation so that the whole system remains intact. Their approach is extremely dangerous because they present themselves to us as our friends. The TAC should also open its books so as to dispel reports that they or their affiliates are part funded by the very drug cartel that they claim to be fighting. We urge workers not to be fooled by the middle class methods and reformism of the TAC and Cosatu leadership. We present below a working class perspective.

Health care is not only about medicines and facilities but is directly related to adequate housing; access to clean water; access to electricity; adequate nutrition, clothing and education. The government is not addressing even one aspect of health care. Against this background, the actions of the ANC govt in limiting medication to those who are HIV+ or who have Aids, amounts to complicity with the international druglords in genocide.

What is HIV?

HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s natural defence system that normally kills germs. Therefore someone who has the virus is more likely to get sick and a whole range of sicknesses can attack the body in a much more serious way than normal. A simple flu becomes much more difficult to handle and developing TB will become fatal very quickly. A person who has the HIV virus is said to be HIV+. This person can live for some years before the virus is so strong as to overwhelm the body’s natural defence system. When the defence system is overwhelmed, the person has Aids.

The capitalists are allowing the spread of HIV

Two World wars killed many millions of people as the imperialists battled one another in order to redivide the world among themselves for the sake of continued exploitation of the working class. With technology developing, there is an ever-increasing surplus (over-supply- to the capitalist that is) of labour. This poses a huge challenge to capitalist ‘stability’. The drug cartel is working hand in hand with other capitalists; to allow HIV and Aids to spread throughout the neo-colonial world, to not only weaken the working class, but with many millions dying of Aids, it is directly linked to the increase in their profits on a global scale. [There is less pressure from workers on the capitalist state for social responsibility issues eg providing housing, education, nutrition, health care etc; less is budgetted for the expense for the reproduction of labour].

From the introduction above, it is now clear that this is only a secondary reason why the drug companies are allowing the spread of HIV in the neo-colonial countries. The main reason is quite simply that there is a limited market for them to make sufficient profit. Any widespread programme, free or at low cost will immediately raise questions over the high cost of drugs in their main markets. Their profits would be threatened. For the sake of maintaining their profit levels artificially, the drug cartel does not care how many millions die. By the actions of the SA govt, they support the drug cartel in this murderous campaign!

Will the Medicine and Substance Control Act mean more affordable health care or adequate treatment for HIV+ or Aids patients?

The answer is NO! This Act gives more power to the pharmaceutical companies and entrenches their control:

1. Cheaper drugs can only be imported or produced with the permission of the giant drug companies. [The drug companies own all the patents/rights to all the major drugs]

2. The only imports that are allowed are those that have originally been produced by the same big companies but from other countries, at a lower price (because they have to compete with cheaper drugs there). Even if the drug companies allows a generic (essentially a drug with the same ingredients and same effect but a different manufacturer) to be made or imported , they still receive a royalty payment.

3. The Minister of Health appoints the Drug Council that determines all the rules on importing and pricing, subject to not challenging the so-called private property of the drug companies. People will be appointed who support privatisation and profit-making out of health.

4. The Pricing Committee has no powers to challenge the super profits of the drug companies.

So why did the Pharmaceutical companies challenge the Act?

The Act only slightly dents the profits of the drug companies and the 4 year delay of the Act has allowed them to maintain their profit levels longer, irrespective of the many thousands that had to die because of this!! So why did the druglords now give in? They gave in because their huge profit levels[over 15000%!!] would have been exposed in public, because of declining profit levels in other sectors, and the struggle internationally was starting to challenge the very ‘intellectual property rights’; the basis of their profits and their means of holding the health of the working class to ransom. Intellectual property rights in this case means, eg that if a certain company has the cure for Aids, or any other disease/ailment, then only they can make and distribute this drug.

They determine what quantity is made. Worse still, if they decide not to produce it, then no-one else can do so, even if millions of people die! [This company can then sell freely all their old and less useful stock for an indefinite period, there is no compulsion to make the cure available- this exposes the true role of the World Trade Organisation that enforces such barbarism]

Considering that Aids and TB are such massive problems, it is instructive to note the bulk of research funds of the drug companies are going to ailments of the middle class and the rich in the imperialist countries [obesity, heart disease,etc]. The cartel of drug companies set their prices virtually at will. Price levels under capitalism-imperialism has nothing to do with supply and demand. Offers from these druglords of free supply of drugs is nothing but a price war against potential competitors, using their massive resources to hold out until the competition capitulates. These druglords control massive resources that are bigger than several countries GDP’s.

The drug cartel still sets their profit levels and the SA market remains the sole preserve of the druglords. Adequate health care remains unaffordable to the working class and fellow poor. More importantly, the fight against Aids and TB remain hostage to the dictates of the profit levels of the cartel. Considering that the rate of HIV infection has gone from 1% to over 11% of the population in the past 10 years, the deal has institutionalised mass destruction of the poor.

Let us not be reduced to another Uganda where the Aids epidemic has reduced the average life expectancy to 35 years! 4 million people are HIV+ in SA today and unless drastic measures are taken, many millions will soon die of Aids. In this battle, the govt is on the side of the drug companies in witholding the necessary drugs for treatment for all HIV+ and Aids patients!

Despite the many well-meaning individuals in the TAC,Treatment Action Campaign, it has channelled the energies and rightful anger into a reformist, partial response, to the problem of Aids and Hiv. They have not put forward the fundamental demand for free medical care for all who are HIV+ or who have Aids. For the TAC and the Cosatu leadership to hail the agreement of the govt with the monopolies as a victory has given respectability and legitimacy to the further wholesale destruction of massive sections of the working class. The role of Mbeki and the Secretary General of the UN in this deal merely confirms their subservience to the rule of capitalism-imperialism.

On the offer of cheap or free drugs by Anglo and SACOB[SA Chamber of Business]:

The capitalists employ the minimum number of workers for the maximum profit. The advances of technology has meant that they want to reduce more jobs any way. Thus for them a 3%, a 10% or even 15% HIV infection rate among employed workers was quite acceptable. It is only now that the HIV infection rate has reached 20% among some sectors of employed workers that their profit levels have been affected!

Their main reasoning is that they are losing too many workers, too quickly! It must be remembered that the drug companies are part of SACOB and the ownership of the drug companies, medical Aid schemes and the monopolies like Anglo are inter-connected. Anglo’s offer to bring in cheaper generics from Cipla in India, was done with the approval of the drug companies and thus in a way that their profits are not threatened. The motivation for the opening of 170 centres for the Aids drugs for certain employed workers under SACOB, is due to high costs of hospitalisation, absenteeism and the high cost of training replacement workers.

In other words, merely to prop up their profit levels and not for a permanent cure/treatment of workers nor out of concern for any of the sick and dying! We demand the following:

1. The drug cartel should open their books and reveal their profit levels

2. There should be immediate free medical care for all who are HiV+ or who have Aids

3. The international drug cartel should be expropriated , placed under workers control and the resources available centralised on a world-wide scale and utilised to develop a cure/vaccine for TB, malaria and Aids. Profiteering on health care should be abolished.

4. TRIPS or intellectual property rights should be abolished and all patents made freely available for the development of humanity as a whole.

5. A planned world economy based on the needs of the working class and fellow poor!

The spread of Aids while there are sufficient drugs available for the treatment of HIV [although no cure exists yet]is a reflection of the barbarism of capitalism. There will be no solution to humanity’s problems under capitalism. The priority remains the building of a revolutionary working class party as part of the rebuilding of the Fourth International! Forward to Socialism!