The Forum for African Investigative Reporters (Fair), has launched its
first Transnational Investigation dossier, dealing with the lack of access to medicines as a major
cause of the deaths, of treatable diseases, of hundreds of thousands of
Africans in recent years, according to a media release.
The dossier was compiled by a team of ten African investigative journalists over an eight month period in 2007.

The dossier points towards patent protection by multinational pharmaceutical companies as a continuing problem in this regard. Though cheaper and effective generic medicines are being produced in sufficient quantities in countries such as India and Thailand, they are often still not reaching the people who need them. Powerful –and mainly US-based- industry lobbies continue to pressurize African governments to buy expensive brand medication.

Whilst bungling by African governments, corruption and bad infrastructure play an important role in the problems with medicine distribution, the activities of the industry itself –that advertises itself regularly as a 'lifesaving' one-, appear to enhance the bad, rather than the good, the FAIR team says in a foreword to the dossier. In many African countries, pharmaceutical companies have not even registered important modern medicines that could ensure long term survival of many who are now dying, particularly of HIV/Aids.

In a particularly tragic twist, the FAIR team itself was affected by death and disease during the investigation. Out of initially eleven team members, two succumbed to disease during 2007 and a third is battling to regain his health. As a result, the FAIR team has declared a personal interest in the investigated subject matter in its foreword to the dossier.

The dossier title 'The indifferent industry', points to the team's conclusion that, in spite of the daily –in some countries 100, in others 800- avoidable deaths, the pharmaceutical industry's attitude should be described as 'indifferent' rather than 'evil'. When pressurized by civil society groups, companies have lowered prices for, and sometimes even patent rules on, essential medicines in Africa. However, in the words of the Southafrican Treatment Action Campaign's Jonathan Berger: 'It is a continuous struggle. As soon as you release the pressure, the high prices are back.' The high cost of new generation Aids medication, needed by many who have become resistant to older drugs, is an illustration of this.

The dossier analyzes the infrastructural problems affecting the distribution of essential medicines in Africa and comes to the conclusion that the pharmaceutical industry could help build up an African market for essential medicines if it would join efforts in this regard made by the World Health Organisation and some African governments. However, the fact that out of seven multinational pharmaceutical companies only one responded to FAIR's questions, again creates the impression that the sector largely remains indifferent.

The dossier is available in PDF format on FAIR's website Click here to access the dossier directly.

Hard copies of the dossier, costing R 150,- (or USD 20,- or Eur 15,-) each, can be ordered from