The news from South Africa yesterday was both good and bad for AIDS activists. Lawyers for a group of over 39 major pharmaceutical companies withdrew their legal challenge to a 1997 South African law that would allow the government to import or produce generic versions of the drugs. The lawsuit proved to be a tremendous public relations blunder for the drug companies, who were depicted as placing profits above human lives. Under the settlement reached yesterday, which was brokered by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the South African government will consult the pharmaceutical industry when it crafts the regulations for the 1997 law and repeated its commitment not to breach international trade agreements. While hailed as an important victory and breakthrough in the fight against AIDS and other diseases in the world's poorer regions, it appears unlikely that the 4.7 million HIV-infected South Africans will have widespread access to inexpensive AIDS drugs any time soon. The government has made it clear that it has no plans to buy generic drugs and that any national program to provide medication is still far in the future.
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