Nehawu calls for state drug company

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Pharma REUTERS A pharmacist counts pills in a pharmacy.

Johannesburg - A state-owned pharmaceutical company would be the best way to keep the costs of medication down, the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) said on Monday.

Spokesman Sizwe Pamla said in a statement that privately-owned drug companies were motivated by profit rather than the well-being of those who rely on their medications.

“We should also remember that these people make their money from commodifying and prolonging sickness and not from curing it.

“It is therefore naïve of us to believe that they will have any self-restraint.”

He was responding to a report last week that a group of multinational drug companies operating in South Africa were looking at strategies to block proposed legislation aimed at weakening drug patent laws.

According to the report, the section of the proposed policy relating to health would help to reduce the costs of medication for a range of medications, including antiretrovirals and tuberculosis treatment.

Pamla said healthcare costs were frequently inflated by the costs of medicines, many of which were patented and imported.

“Our research shows that the impact of the improvement in distribution which will result from the proposed establishment of a national health insurance and the establishment of a state-owned pharmaceutical company is the most sustainable way of expanding domestic production to meet the country's needs.”

The union was disappointed that the government had not implemented a resolution taken at the African National Congress's 52nd national conference, held in Polokwane in 2007, to establish a state-owned pharmaceutical manufacturer.

“This is essential to the attainment of the health targets of the country and will also increase the capacity of the state to provide an uninterrupted supply of medicines at a scale which the National Health Insurance will require.”

Pamla said it did not make economic sense for the public healthcare system to rely on international drug companies.

The companies referred to in the media report on Friday were represented by the Innovative Pharmaceutical Association of SA (Ipasa).

Ipasa then issued a statement, saying it had rejected a wide-reaching strategy developed by consultancy group Public Affairs Engagement (PAE).

This strategy reportedly aimed at directing the nature of public discourse around the policy through a massive public relations exercise directed from outside the country.

The PAE plan intended to send the message that the policy could threaten investment and have negative economic and social consequences. - Sapa

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