In the high court of South Africa, case no. 4138/98: the global politics of access to low-cost AIDS drugs in poor countries

Kennedy Inst Ethics J. 2002 Jun;12(2):159-74. doi: 10.1353/ken.2002.0008.


In 1998, 39 pharmaceutical manufacturers sued the government of South Africa to prevent the implementation of a law designed to facilitate access to AIDS drugs at low cost. The companies accused South Africa, the country with the largest population of individuals living with HIV/AIDS in the world, of circumventing patent protections guaranteed by the intellectual property rules that were included in the latest round of world trade agreements. The pharmaceutical companies dropped their lawsuit in the spring of 2001 after an avalanche of negative publicity. Yet, despite the government's victory, AIDS drugs remain very expensive in South Africa, and the government still refuses to provide antiretroviral therapy to adults. These events have shone a spotlight, not only on the possibilities for coordinated political activism in the era of instant global communications, but also on the tangled social, economic, and political dimensions of AIDS treatment in poor countries.

MeSH terms

  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Anti-HIV Agents / economics*
  • Anti-HIV Agents / supply & distribution*
  • Developing Countries*
  • Drug Industry / economics*
  • Drug Industry / legislation & jurisprudence
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy*
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Humans
  • Patents as Topic / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / economics*
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / supply & distribution
  • South Africa


  • Anti-HIV Agents
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations