‘Strong Prevention, Infrastructure’ — Not Drugs — Key to Fighting AIDS, HHS Secretary Thompson Tells World Health Assembly
Speaking at a meeting of the World Health Assembly yesterday, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said that skirting international patent laws to produce generic drugs would not "solve the problem" of HIV/AIDS, Reuters Health reports. Thompson, recently named to lead an anti-AIDS task force with Secretary of State Colin Powell, instead called for a comprehensive plan to combat HIV/AIDS. He said, "You have to have strong prevention, strong infrastructure ... [y]ou cannot just buy drugs." Thompson said that the "erosion of patent rights" for drug companies meant that research would be hindered. He added that he was "confident" that the drug companies would continue to cut prices of AIDS drugs.
Brazil is leading an effort at the meeting to "weaken" patent protections, saying that access to health care should be a human right that should "take precedence over commercial interests," Reuters Health reports. The nation has presented a motion in which it "calls for intellectual property rights ... [to] be considered "subordinate to the concurrent goal of ensuring present and future access to essential drugs." The assembly is expected to vote on the measure today. Harvey Bale, head of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers' Association, said that countries should negotiate drug prices with companies. "Governments like Senegal and Ivory Coast have told various people that patented medicines from originating brand companies have been as cheap or cheaper than generic versions. It's a question of approaching and negotiating, putting in place those mechanisms which ensure that people get medicine" (Waddington, Reuters Health, 5/16).