Central American AIDS Advocates Hope U.S. Congress Votes Against CAFTA, Say Pact Could Threaten Treatment Access
Some Central American AIDS advocates hope that the U.S. Congress votes against adopting the Central American Free Trade Agreement because of patent-protection elements in the pact that advocates say could threaten access to low-cost antiretroviral drugs, VOA News reports (Elton, VOA News, 4/4). CAFTA would eliminate tariffs and other barriers to trade in goods, agricultural services, investment and the imposition of intellectual property rights on medicines. AIDS advocates worry that the agreement also could place limitations on compulsory licensing, which allows a government to authorize itself or a third party to make a generic version of a patented product, including antiretrovirals, with payment of reasonable compensation to the patent holder. The deal also would require generic drug makers to redo clinical trials to obtain marketing approval and postpone using the trial results for brand-name company drugs for five years, which could create patent-like barriers to market entry of generics, even where no patent exists (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/1).
Generic antiretroviral treatment currently costs about $400 per patient annually in Guatemala, but, if CAFTA is adopted, antiretroviral costs could rise to $10,000 annually per patient because the agreement would require many patients to switch from using low-cost generic drugs to more-expensive patented drugs, VOA News reports. Costa Rican AIDS advocate Guillermo Murillo said that government-funded antiretroviral coverage recently has increased in many Central American countries but "will be impossible to extend" if CAFTA is adopted, according to VOA News. However, some analysts say that a side letter to CAFTA states that the patent-protection provisions in the agreement should not affect government AIDS treatment programs. Rodolfo Lambour, who represents multinational pharmaceutical companies in Guatemala, said he supports the patent protections in CAFTA. "For many years, there has been no intellectual property rights protection in Central America, and now we feel the time has come to respect a little bit the intellectual property rights -- which are legitimate and fair -- of companies that invest more than any other sector in industry, in research and development of new products." The U.S. Senate is scheduled to hold its first debate on CAFTA on Wednesday, VOA News reports (VOA News, 4/4).
Dozens of HIV-positive Guatemalans last week gathered in Guatemala City to protest a law approved last month that is meant to facilitate the adoption of CAFTA. The law allows drug companies to protect clinical drug trial data for five to 10 years, which would slow the rate at which generic drugs come to the market. Guatemala in December 2004 relaxed rules governing the introduction of generics but repealed the law after the United States said that the rules would prevent Congress from passing CAFTA because of opposition from some legislators who are favorable to pharmaceutical companies (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/1). The protesters have said that they will continue to march outside of U.S. embassies across Central America and are working with U.S. AIDS advocates to lobby Congress to oppose CAFTA, according to VOA News (VOA News, 4/5).