Op-Ed Recommends Several Steps for the United States to Take in Promoting Access to HIV/AIDS Drugs
"Addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa and around the world will require a massively accelerated prevention effort," which includes addressing the "crying need" of citizens of developing nations to have access to antiretroviral drugs, Multinational Monitor Editor and Essential Action Co-Director Robert Weissman writes in a Foreign Policy in Focus essay. To expand the availability of anti-AIDS drugs, Weissman advocates both parallel importing and compulsory licensing, which he labels the "more important" of the two options. Compulsory licensing, which enables the government to license local companies to manufacture cheaper, generic version of patented drugs, "can lower the price of medicines by as much as 95%," Weissman states. He adds that parallel importing, which allows the purchasing of cheaper drugs from other countries or sources without the manufacturer's permission, should also be used to procure cheaper drugs for poorer countries. Both strategies, he points out, are "regularly used in industrialized countries" such as the United States and Japan and the European Union, and are permitted under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement. However, many countries are discouraged from issuing a compulsory license because they believe that to do so "will invite U.S. sanctions or World Trade Organization litigation," Weissman states. He adds that the United States has "sent the wrong message" by taking several steps to protect and expand patent laws, including measures that would extend patent terms, interfere with compulsory licensing and "otherwise undermine efforts by poor countries to make medicines more accessible." The United States should not pursue these actions, and should stop pushing expansion of TRIPS in international trade agreements, Weissman writes, since "[e]ven if changes were made so that the WTO TRIPS became less restrictive, for example, this would have little impact on countries that had separate TRIPS or TRIPS-plus obligations."
The United States must also lend greater support to efforts by developing nations to produce and acquire cheaper anti-AIDS drugs, Weissman argues. He writes that the United States should support the South African government in the lawsuit over the country's generic importation act, which is being opposed by 39 pharmaceutical companies. The U.S. government should "urge" the drug firms to abandon their lawsuit, he states, and should also license to the World Health Organization "all of the HIV/AIDS drugs that have been developed with government funding and for which the U.S. government holds patent or other intellectual property rights." The United States, Weissman continues, should "terminate all bilateral pressure on Brazil, Argentina and other countries related to health-related intellectual property disputes" and "should not seek to press TRIPS monopoly patent protections to their limit." The Bush administration should also "broaden" the executive order issued by former President Clinton exempting sub-Saharan African countries from U.S. trade and patent laws in the area of HIV/AIDS drugs and medicines to cover "all health-related technologies, not just those related to HIV/AIDS, and all parts of the world, not just Africa," Weissman states. Finally, the United States must provide "massively stepped-up" aid for AIDS treatment and prevention through the "appropriate" U.N. agencies (Weissman, Foreign Policy In Focus, March 2001).