The Other Drug War: Pharmaceutical Companies and WTO Sue Brazil and South Africa to Protectprices and Patents

February 15, 2001

The world’s giant pharmaceutical companies hold the patents to medicines that would save or prolong of lives ofmillions of people in the developing world if those people there could afford them. In the last few years, developingnations have implemented two strategies to get drugs to those who need them and break the drug companies’ monopoly.Countries can either manufacture their own cheap drugs to override patents, which is what Brazil is doing, or, likeSouth Africa, they can import a drug from wherever it was sold cheapest.

The drug industry has responded with its own two-pronged strategy. At the instigation of the US, the World TradeOrganization is challenging Brazil’s right to manufacture its own inexpensive drugs. Since Brazil started producingnon-patented Aids drugs, the death rate in that country from AIDS has been halved.

The second prong of the pharmaceutical companies’ strategy is aimed at South Africa. Some 42 pharmaceutical companies,including the British giant GlaxoSmithKline are suing the African nation which has 25 million people infected withHIV/AIDS. They have launched a lawsuit to prevent South Africa from importing inexpensive drugs manufactured in suchcountries as India.

Now Oxfam which usually confine their work to humanitarian intervention, is taking aim in the other drug war andlaunching a campaign against Glaxo.


  • Kevin Watkins, senior policy advisor at Oxfam UK.
  • Larry Elliott, economics editor of the Guardian [London].
  • Ambassador Celso Amorim, head of the Brazilian trade mission in Geneva and Brazilian ambassador tointernational organizations including the WTO.
  • Dr. Anne-Valerie Kaninda, medical advisor to Doctors Without Borders.