Southern African Development Community Pledges To Fight AIDS, Oppose Enforcement of Patents on Drugs at WTO Talks
The Southern African Development Community on Tuesday at the close of its 23rd Annual SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, pledged to fight HIV/AIDS in the region, Agence France-Presse reports (Graham, Agence France-Presse, 8/26). Over the weekend, the SADC Council of Ministers approved the SADC HIV/AIDS Framework and Program of Action, 2003-2007, and on Sunday announced that the group is seeking $10.5 million to implement the program. Heads of state and government officials from SADC's 14 member states -- Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe -- last month declared HIV/AIDS a key issue and top priority for SADC. According to SADC statistics, 14 million people in the southern African region are HIV-positive (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/25). Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa said that the framework "offers us a measurable target against which our efforts, actions and successes -- or lack thereof -- will be measured. It has provided us with a challenge we cannot fail to meet in the interests of our people who are being daily decimated by the deadly pandemic" (Agence France-Presse, 8/26).
Mkapa also said that SADC leaders will oppose the enforcement of patent rights on medications to treat HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis at the World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun, Mexico, next month, the Associated Press reports (Mwangi, Associated Press, 8/26). WTO talks over generic drug access have been stalled since members missed a Dec. 31, 2002, deadline to reach an agreement. U.S. negotiators in February refused to sign a deal under the Doha declaration to allow developing nations to override patent protections to produce or import generic versions of drugs to combat public health epidemics, including HIV/AIDS, unless wording was included to specify which diseases constitute a public health epidemic. However, the United States in June made a concession by dropping its demand that the agreement apply only to a specified list of diseases (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/27). SADC leaders said that enforcing drug patent laws restricts their ability to offer treatment for people in the region living with the diseases because the laws prohibit countries from manufacturing or importing generic drugs, according to the Associated Press. The leaders said that delegates from the southern African region who attend the Cancun meeting should speak with the "strongest united voice for an equal chance in the battle for life." Mkapa said that there should be a "distinction between promoting trade and helping the less fortunate," according to the Associated Press (Associated Press, 8/26).