South Africa's health minister accused multi-national drug companies of orchestrating a "satanic" and "genocidal" plot to rig patent laws, according to a newspaper interview published Friday.
Commenting on pharmaceutical firm's efforts to scupper patent reforms that would lower the cost of some medicine with generic versions, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi told the Mail & Guardian newspaper it was a conspiracy of "satanic magnitude".
"I am not using strong words; I am using appropriate words. This is genocide," Motsoaledi said. "This document can sentence many South Africans to death."
South Africa's current laws allow drug firms to renew patents indefinitely by changing small elements in a medicine's composition.
Reforms would change that, paving the way for patents to expire and generic versions of the drugs to be legally produced.
The government hopes that would make providing life-saving treatment for over six million South Africans living with AIDS much cheaper.
Motsoaledi's comments came after documents emerged detailing a lobby group's strategy to influence policy.
The Innovative Pharmaceutical Association of South Africa (IPASA) planned a campaign across Africa and Europe to pressure Pretoria into strengthening the patent laws, according to the newspaper which obtained a copy of the plan.
It includes efforts to "mobilise voices inside and outside South Africa to send the message that the proposed IP (intellectual property) policy threatens continued investment and thus economic and social well-being," the paper quoted from the nine-page document.
"This mobilisation will occur through an energetic campaign, which will feel like a political campaign."
Motsoaledi said the project put profits ahead of people.
"They want to prove to patients that the lack of access to medicine has nothing to do with IP but everything to do with the incompetence of the government," said Motsoaledi.
"They are not hoping to influence government; they are hoping to influence society to turn against government," he said.
IPASA reportedly enlisted US-based lobby firm Public Affairs Engagement for its campaign.
But its head Val Beaumont denied they had contracted outside parties.
"IPASA is considering various communication strategies and proposals to augment our ongoing policy advocacy and communications outreach concerning the draft policy," she told the newspaper.
Rights group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) lauded Motsoaledi's strong reaction.
"The minister is right to take a firm stand against pharmaceutical companies that seek to protect their profit margins at the expense of ordinary South Africans," said the organisation's Julia Hill.
"The government is bringing national law in line with international norms, so they have the ability to take action when inflated prices put crucial medicines out of reach."
[Image via Agence France-Presse]