Washington, DC - Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) today announced her support for the decision of 39 pharmaceutical companies to drop their lawsuit against the South African government to overturn the Medicines Act of 1997.

On March 20, 2001 Lee was joined by many Members of Congress on the House floor to express opposition to the lawsuit and called on the 39 pharmaceutical companies to drop the lawsuit.

"I stand firm in my belief that by denying the basic human right to medical care, this lawsuit in itself was criminal," said Lee. "Through this lawsuit the pharmaceutical companies jeopardized the lives of millions of South Africans living with AIDS. By lifting this road block, the South African government will be able to move forward with implementing the Medicines Act."

"The momentum with which the international grass roots community, governments and elected officials launched a well targeted campaign to oppose this lawsuit is testament that as we move together as a community, for the good of the human family, we will overcome obstacles such as this lawsuit," said Lee. "I am grateful for this activism; it must be applauded."

"While South Africa may now move to implement the Medicines Act, there still exists a threat of litigation against other countries such as India, Brazil and other developing nations who choose to implement TRIPS complaint strategies in order to provide life-saving AIDS medicines to their people," said Lee. "That is why I introduced, along with Congresswoman Jan Shakowsky (D-IL), H.R. 1185, the Global Access to HIV/AIDS Medicines Act of 2001.

The Global Access to HIV/AIDS Medicines Act codifies President Clinton's Executive Order #13155 and expands its reach to other developing nations that have been hit hard by AIDS, but have limited resources to address the crisis. Countries that declare a national health emergency related to the HIV/AIDS crisis and/ or have an HIV/AIDS incidence of 5% or more would benefit from this bill.

"Life-saving medications still remain far out of the reach of millions of people living with AIDS," said Lee. "90% of the world's 36 million people with HIV face a death sentence because they cannot afford medication-because they are poor and live in the developing world."

Under the Clinton Executive Order, the United States would be prohibited from exerting pressure through its affiliation with the World Trade Organization, or through the United States Trade Representative to stop sub-Saharan African countries from engaging in parallel importing or manufacturing generic live-saving HIV/AIDS medication.

"Addressing the issue of access to affordable life-saving HIV/AIDS medicines and technologies is only one part of our comprehensive strategy to combating AIDS, but it is a crucial one," concluded Lee. "We must not tolerate the current policy that dictates that life with a manageable illness is possible if you are wealthy, but death from AIDS is certain if you are poor."