LETTERS

While South Africa is in the dock for trying to produce affordable drugs for its HIVpositive population, it would be more appropriate to deliver a 'guilty' verdict on the multinational pharmaceutical companies using the World Trade Organisation regulations to prosecute this case.

But while these companies try to prevent developing countries from producing their own, cheaper anti-HIV drugs, Western governments seem reluctant to challenge this - seeming to expect higher ethical self-regulation from drug companies, wishfully thinking that consideration for the wellbeing of all human beings will temper their drive for profit.

It is true that tackling HIV takes more than drugs - cheap or not. People with HIV need clean water, good housing, employment, freedom from war and starvation if the drugs are to work for them. But ensuring we are all healthy is not amenable to the profit motive of the pharmaceutical companies.

Public health cannot be left to private hands.

And, after four years of promising, it is time our own government finally produced its HIV strategy and made clear its own contribution to tackling HIV - here and worldwide - including calling for the companies to drop their lawsuits against developing countries, and calling for all other governmental and nongovernmental organisations to join in this demand - right now.

John Nicholson Chief executive UK Public Health Association