Advocates at AIDS Conference Call for End to U.S. Trade Pacts That Hinder Local Production of Low-Cost Antiretrovirals
More than 45 organizations on Thursday at the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto signed a demand for a moratorium on U.S. free trade agreements that they say prevent local production of low-cost antiretroviral drugs, AFP/Today Online reports. Advocates at the conference also called for an end to what they called a "pharma war" on people living with HIV/AIDS in developing countries. Brook Baker -- a lawyer at Northeastern University and an analyst for Health Group Access Project -- said the U.S. has pushed for trade deals that would protect U.S. patent rights by preventing local companies from making generic versions of pharmaceutical molecules patented by U.S. companies. Although the World Trade Organization in 2003 agreed to allow developing countries to issue compulsory licenses -- which permit domestic companies to copy drugs patented in other countries -- the moratorium demand says "current WTO intellectual property rules are already making it difficult for countries to access affordable medicines." Anan Grover, a legal advocate in India, said patent issues could make second-line antiretrovirals inaccessible for many people who need them. "Within five years there will be a major crisis. The number of people that are going to be requiring second-line drugs is going to increase," Grover said. The demand was signed by Medecins Sans Frontieres, Oxfam and U.N. Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis (AFP/Today Online, 8/18). It also was signed by doctors, academics, lawyers, scientists, faith-based groups and health care workers (MSF release, 8/17). An unnamed U.S. trade official disagreed with the advocates' assertions, saying access to medicines has been widened by U.S. free trade agreements. UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said he did not expect a major confrontation between advocates and drug companies (AFP/Today Online, 8/18).
De Cock's Comments
In related news, Kevin De Cock, head of the World Health Organization's HIV/AIDS Department, on Wednesday urged developing countries to more aggressively pursue negations with drug companies and to eliminate bureaucracy to ensure that universal access to antiretrovirals can be achieved by 2010, the Financial Times reports. De Cock also said developing countries are not taking enough advantage of WTO's Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Jack, Financial Times, 8/16). The TRIPS agreement allows developing countries to issue compulsory licenses to import generic drugs for diseases such as HIV/AIDS if a country confirms that it cannot manufacture them domestically. In addition, governments can approve the domestic production of generic versions of patented drugs during emergency public health situations if they fail to reach an agreement with the patent holder, according to the agreement (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 7/31). According to De Cock, tariffs, taxes and drug registration processes posed further obstacles for developing countries. He said many people in poor countries still cannot afford the annual $130 per-person price for antiretrovirals, adding that access to drugs is even more challenging for middle-income countries and for people seeking pediatric or second-line drugs. De Cock said that at the end of this year WHO will begin publishing annual reports on progress toward achieving universal access to antiretrovirals (Financial Times, 8/16).
Kaisernetwork.org served as the official webcaster of the conference. View the guide to coverage and all webcasts, interviews and a daily video round up of conference highlights at http://www.kaisernetwork.org/aids2006.