Sens. Feinstein and Feingold Introduce Bill to Increase Antiretroviral Drug Access in Developing Countries
Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) yesterday introduced the Global Access to AIDS Treatment Act of 2001, a measure that would prohibit the U.S. government from pressuring countries to revoke or revise laws intended to increase antiretroviral drug access, Agence France-Presse reports. Although the bill is primarily directed at sub-Saharan Africa, the region experiencing the highest concentration of AIDS cases in the world, it would also apply to other nations facing AIDS emergencies. The legislation comes as the World Health Organization plans to take "extraordinary action to support South Africa's legal battle to import and produce cheap generic anti-AIDS drugs." South Africa is currently fighting a lawsuit brought by 39 drug makers that contend the importation and manufacture of generic treatments "flouts global trade laws" (Agence France-Press, 3/6). Feinstein said, "This legislation addresses one of the core issues in the global HIV/AIDS crisis -- access to pharmaceuticals -- and builds on the current policy to address a serious health care crisis ravaging villages and communities in many developing countries. ... It is clearly in the interest of the United States to prevent the further spread of HIV/AIDS." The act would help improve drug access for populations in developing nations by doing the following:
- "Requir[e]" WHO and UNAIDS to "take the lead" in the international organization of the manufacture and distribution of drugs for HIV/AIDS;
- Permit developing nations facing an AIDS health care crisis to use compulsory licensing or parallel importing practices to gain access to affordable drugs, consistent with intellectual property rights protection under the World Trade Organization's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement;
- Authorize $25 million per year in grants for the creation of programs to strengthen and broaden African health care system infrastructures and capacities to deliver anti-AIDS pharmaceuticals;
- Establish an international database of anti-AIDS drugs, to be maintained by the FDA and HHS, with information about patent status, recommended treatment protocols, price and quality;
- Authorize $1 million per year for a loan repayment and deferment program for health care professionals who provide HIV treatment and care in developing countries (Feinstein release, 3/6).