By Anso Thom

The Treatment Action Campaign and Cosatu are set for another showdown with government - this time because they have brought generic anti-retroviral drugs into the country.

This is in defiance of the Patents Act which forbids the importing or manufacture of generic medicines without permission.

Three TAC members, including chairperson Zackie Achmat, and Cosatu's representative Joyce Phekane arrived from Brazil on Monday with a consignment of generic antiretrovirals for the Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) programme running in Khayelitsha.

"We want to show the government that the Brazilian government had the courage to challenge the biggest country in the world (the United States) to save its citizens," said Achmat, pointing out that less than one percent of Brazil's citizens were infected.

Achmat said they had defied the act to force the government to either ask the drug companies for voluntary licences or to apply for compulsory licences, moves that would make the drugs more affordable.

Achmat said the generics cost them less than half of what MSF was paying for antiretroviral drugs.

Achmat said there were enough drugs for the 85 people currently being treated as part of the MSF programme.

The TAC and the government took on the drug companies last year to win concessions to import and manufacture more affordable drugs.

Government, so far, has not used any of the benefits it gained in the out-of-court settlement with the pharmaceutical companies.

It is estimated that almost 5-million South Africans are currently infected.

Of the 600 000 infected in Brazil, 115 000 are on antiretrovirals.

In 1998, Brazil began making copies of brand-name drugs, and the price of those medicines has fallen by an average of 79 percent.

Since 1997, virtually all patients in Brazil for whom it is medically indicated are able to get free treatment of the same triple cocktail of drugs that keeps wealthy Americans healthy.

Brazil has also halved the death rate from Aids, prevented of new hospitalisations, cut the transmission rate, stabilised the epidemic and improved the overall state of public health in Brazil. - Health-e News Service