South African, British Activists Call For Change to TRIPS Treaty
Politicians and officials from the G8 group of "industrialized countries" will meet today in Japan to launch a "global action plan" designed to combat the spread of communicable diseases, especially HIV, London's Independent reports. But South Africa's Trade and Industry Minister, Alec Erwin, and AIDS activists from the London-based Action for Southern Africa say that any commitment out of tomorrow's meeting "could appear worthless" without changing the World Trade Organization's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property treaty, or TRIPS. The treaty prevents developing countries from "buying drugs in the least expensive markets" because it allows pharmaceutical companies to set drug prices for certain countries, "irrespective of production costs," a practice dubbed "market segmentation." This prevents countries from "shopping around for the best prices" for medications. However, TRIPS does contain a clause for countries to "opt out" of market segmentation in the case of a health emergency. South Africa attempted to invoke this clause last year, but Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham took legal action and reported the matter to the United States. The United States then "threatened to place South Africa on a trade 'watch list.'" After "public outcry" regarding the U.S. policy, Vice President Al Gore stated that the United States would not intervene in South Africa's attempts to purchase cheaper drugs. AIDS activists have called on Britain and the European Union to do the same, but "[t]here is little evidence that Britain, home to Glaxo Wellcome, is prepared to follow suit" (Smith, Independent, 12/5).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.