Thirty-nine people were arrested Monday outside Bayer Corporation’s Berkeley research and manufacturing facility in a protest over a lawsuit that AIDS activists say will affect millions of lives in South Africa.
About 100 peaceful protesters carrying signs and chanting anti-Bayer slogans, of “Stop medical apartheid!” and “Bayer, Bayer you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side!” gathered at the front gate of the Bayer Corporation’s Center for Biotechnology.
The protest was scheduled to coincide with the beginning of oral arguments in an intellectual property suit in Pretoria’s High Court in South Africa.
Bayer is among 39 pharmaceutical companies that filed suit against the government of South Africa over the adoption of the Medicines and Related Substances Control Amendment in 1997.
The amendment would allow generic drug manufacturers to produce and sell drugs at a reduced cost. In the case of AIDS drugs or antitiretrovirals, which are prescribed to prolong the lives of AIDS patients, the cost could be reduced to one-tenth of current prices set by pharmaceutical companies, according to Act Up East Bay.
Protest organizers, Act Up/East Bay and Global Exchange, worked closely with police to ensure the demonstration would remain peaceful. Those arrested were respectfully escorted two at a time from the front gate of the research and manufacturing facility to a processing area where they were cited and released.
Among those arrested were Berkeley Councilmembers Maudelle Shirek, Kriss Worthington and Linda Maio. Councilmembers Dona Spring and Margaret Breland were among the protesters but chose not to be arrested.
Worthington, who stopped counting the times he has been arrested for protesting at 100, said Bayer Corporation is demonstrating unconscionable greed. “Berkeley fought very hard so all South Africans would have the right to vote,” said Worthington who carried a framed 1994 South African ballot from the first election in which blacks were allowed to vote.. “Berkeley will have to fight just as hard so people of all income levels have access to HIV/AIDS drugs.”
Bayer spokesperson Mary Stutts said the protesters were being unfair to Bayer. She said the purpose of the law suit is to defend the intellectual property rights of all the drugs that have been developed by the pharmaceutical companies. “The amendment passed in South Africa impacts all drugs, not just AIDS drugs,” she said. “The amendment is not going to resolve the AIDS crisis it’s only going to make it more difficult for companies like Bayer to develop cures and treatments for diseases like AIDS.”
Act Up organizers say an Indian pharmaceutical manufacturer has offered to provide Doctors Without Borders with the drugs for a treatment known as “triple therapy” for $350 per person per year. Pharmaceutical companies such as Bristol-Myers Squibb are known to charge as much as $11,000 for the same treatment.
According to studies there are 4.2 million South Africans who are HIV positive. The majority of the infected are poor, some earning less than a dollar a day and cannot afford drug treatments that can cost as much as $1,100 per year.