Silencing the voice of affordable medicine

Silencing the voice of affordable medicineBristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) has denied allegations by the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) that the U$100-million HIV/Aids grant made by the pharmaceutical giant last year to five southern African countries, including South Africa, was an attempt to "silence the voice of affordable medicine".

Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) has denied allegations by the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) that the U$100-million HIV/Aids grant made by the pharmaceutical giant last year to five southern African countries, including South Africa, was an attempt to “silence the voice of affordable medicine”.

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Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) has denied allegations by the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) that the U$100-million HIV/Aids grant made by the pharmaceutical giant last year to five southern African countries, including South Africa, was an attempt to “silence the voice of affordable medicine”.

Zackie Achmat of TAC recently told parliament’€™s health portfolio committee that grants such as the BMS donation was “very generous”, but accused the company of trying to buy off researchers and doctors.

“In 1998 the chief executive officer of BMS Charles A Heimbold (Jr) received a pay package of U$56-million (Heimbold cashed in a large part of his stock options) and retained unexercised stock options amounting to U$200-million.

“This makes it clear that the U$100-million donation to five southern African countries is merely an attempt to silence the voice of affordable drugs,” Achmat told the committee during the AIDS hearings.

According to the company’€™s official website, total company revenue exceeded U$20-billion (R142-billion) last year, with about 37 percent of BMS sales outside the United States.

Secure the Future is touted by BMS as a “U$100-million commitment to provide care and support to women and children with HIV/AIDS in five southern African countries” – Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland.

Kenneth E Weg, vice-chairman of BMS, said, so far six grants had been awarded to South Africa, totaling about U$315 000.

Weg said the grants were primarily aimed at supporting HIV/AIDS medical research throughout the country and to research methods of care for orphaned children in Durban.

He said the medical research projects would investigate a range of subjects related to better understanding the treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS.

“Over the coming years, Secure the Future funding of many research initiatives throughout the region will expand the understanding of how to address the problem of HIV/AIDS where resources are severely constrained,” Weg said.

He said since Secure the Future was announced in May last year, funds had been committed to establish several educational fellowships. Over the next five years 250 doctors and other healthcare workers would participate in a one-year program of fellowships in public health and public health policy at the National School of Public Health at the Medical University of Southern Africa.

The medical research sites that received funding were Bethal Hospital in Mpumalanga, Somerset Hospital in the Western Cape, the Paediatrics and Child Health Departments at the Universities of Cape Town and Natal and the HIV Research Unit at the University of the Witwatersrand.

The one-year grant to research co-ordinated responses to care for orphans was made to the AIDS Foundation in Durban.