PHOTO: Daylin Paul/MSF

Pretoria - Humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Friday ran a public campaign in Pretoria and Johannesburg, urging Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is on an official state visit to South Africa, to maintain his country’s stance as a key producer and supplier of affordable, generic medicines to millions of people in South Africa and the rest of Africa.

A billboard trailer, towed by a bakkie, arrived at the Union Buildings in Pretoria with a bold message for Modi, this as South African President Jacob Zuma was officiating at the formal proceedings of welcoming the Indian delegation’s on their visit to South Africa.

On the billboard was written: “Prime Minister Modi, don’t shut down the pharmacy of the developing world.”

MSF Southern Africa spokesperson Claire Waterhouse said their billboard campaign was not a protest action, but rather a programme to raise awareness on developments in the highly critical global pharmaceuticals sector.

“We want South Africans to know that there is an issue and we want Prime Minister Modi to know that we are watching the developments in India closely and we are asking him to stand strong against the pressure he is facing because lives all over the world will be affected (if he succumbs),” said Waterhouse.

“Our message to the Prime Minister is that South Africans will be directly affected if he rolls back pro-public health patent laws in India, as he is currently being pressured to do by the United States and their multi-national drug corporations. We are asking that he stand strong in the face of this pressure and continue to allow India to provide lifesaving generic medication to the developing world at affordable prices.”

MSF said South Africa imported the highest volume of its medicines from India, including life-saving antiretrovirals for HIV, and treatments for a wide range of other diseases.

“The consequences of India succumbing to pressure and changing its laws would essentially mean the profits will be prioritised over lives of people. New, innovative medicines will not be able to gain access into South Africa and the rest of Africa at the same (current) rapid pace and at affordable prices. Massive drug corporations will be able to hold damaging patent monopolies which will prevent South Africa from being able to import those drugs to save South African lives,” said Waterhouse.

“Africa depends greatly on these medications to help their populations and so does MSF. Actually, 97 percent of the medicines we use in our projects are Indian generics.”

Waterhouse said even though there was no guarantee that Modi would spot their trailer billboard at the Union Buildings, or at another event at the Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg, she had faith in the power of social media networks of which the Indian Prime Minister is an avid user, with more than 21 million followers on Twitter.

“We hope that he will see our mobile billboard either in person or through social and other media as it has been spotted all over Johannesburg and Pretoria and we’re excited by how many people are seeing it and asking questions and becoming aware of the issues,” said Waterhouse.

South Africa has more than 6.8 million people infected with the HIV virus, with young women between 15 and 25 years of age being the most vulnerable. Over 1 900 new infections are recorded weekly among this group.

African News Agency