[Ip-health] IPS: Rich Nations Wage Assault on Generic AIDS Drugs

Joanna Keenan joanna.l.keenan at gmail.com
Tue Jun 7 15:52:56 PDT 2011

IPS - http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=55969

Rich Nations Wage Assault on Generic AIDS Drugs
By Elizabeth Whitman

*UNITED NATIONS, Jun 7, 2011 (IPS) - Moves by developed nations such as the
United States to tighten intellectual property laws are threatening to limit
production and distribution of generic drugs, which experts say have been
and will remain key in the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS and
currently account for 80 percent of HIV/AIDS treatment.*

These efforts are taking shape in two spheres. The first is in discussions
on the outcome document that member states are expected to adopt by the end
of this week's United Nations High Level Meeting on
The second is in bilateral trade negotiations between developed and
developing nations.

Generic drugs are essential to treating HIV/AIDS on a global scale because
of their low cost and because they drive down the cost of brand name drugs.
Additionally, according to recent research, treatment is prevention. Studies
have shown that treating patients for HIV reduces the risk of their
transmitting the disease by 96 percent.

In negotiations over the outcome document, which outlines priorities and
strategies in the global effort to combat HIV/AIDS, some developed countries
are seeking to make intellectual property laws stricter by extending patents
or limiting other public health-related flexibilities within the
international Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property
agreement. These restrictions are known as TRIPS plus provisions and
can inhibit the production of generic drugs.

According to Michelle Childs, director of policy and advocacy with the Campaign
for Access to Essential Medicines <http://www.msfaccess.org/>, Médecins Sans
Frontières/ Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the United States, the European
Union, and Japan are trying to make laws "even stricter and narrow the
opportunities for generic producers to make, to export those drugs".

However, Christopher Matthews, press officer for the EU delegation to the
U.N., told IPS that the EU was not advocating TRIPS plus provisions in the
outcome document. "The EU recognises the critical importance of affordable
medicines in reducing levels of HIV infections and related deaths," he said.

Meanwhile, according to the 2010 Global Report
<http://www.unaids.org/documents/20101123_GlobalReport_em.pdf>of the Joint
United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), bilateral and regional trade
agreements between low or middle-income countries and high-income countries
also pose a threat to the production of generic drugs.

These agreements "impose intellectual property protection that is stricter
than necessary" and that may limit developing countries' abilities to
"promote access to affordable HIV medicines," said the report.

For instance, "The EU is currently negotiating a free trade agreement with
India, which is the pharmacy of the developing world," Childs told IPS. In
that agreement, the EU is pushing for clauses that "limit the ability for
generics to manufacture", she added.

This information is not confirmed by the EU.

By reducing generic competition, TRIPS plus provisions inherently run
counter to efforts to keep drugs affordable, a crucial aspect of ensuring
that persons with HIV receive treatment.

"Obviously if you can lower the cost of the drugs, you can treat more
people," said Childs.

"We do not want to see bilateral trade agreements add additional
restrictions that won't allow access to patents for generic drug
manufacturers or for low-cost proprietary drugs," Paul DeLay, deputy
executive director of UNAIDS, said in an interview with IPS.

"Generic drugs have been critical to the response," DeLay added.

Not only is the vast majority of treatment now done with generic drugs, but
the price of proprietary drugs has also declined dramatically in response to
the competition presented by generic manufacturers.

In 2001, brand name antiretroviral (ARV) drugs used to treat HIV cost over
10,000 dollars per person per year- an prohibitive price for treating large
numbers of people in developing countries. Then CIPLA, an Indian
pharmaceutical company, began to produce the same cocktail of drugs for a
dollar a day, Childs said.

Since then, the cost of ARVs has fallen to one percent of their original
price. "Generics competition is a price-busting strategy," Sharonann Lynch,
HIV/AIDS policy advisor for MSF's Campaign for Access to Essential
Medicines, told reporters Monday.

However, "You've got member states who are acting out of self- interest, and
here I would put the U.S.," she added. These states are "helping to prop up
the pharmaceutical interest by pursuing patent protection in these

"There is no excuse where developed countries would be pushing for TRIPS
plus provisions that would greatly curtail developing countries to know the
strategies that we know work, which is to foster generic competition," Lynch

UNAIDS has said that reaching a treatment target of 15 million people by
2015 would eliminate seven million unnecessary deaths and 12 million new
infections by 2020.

This treatment target is still being debated in outcome document
negotiations, but the challenge of reaching it will undoubtedly be magnified
if drug costs increase.

Besides intellectual property rights and treatment target levels, funding is
another hotly debated topic that is left to be resolved by the end of the
High Level Meeting. UNAIDS has said six billion dollars per year is needed
to reach the 15 million treatment target by 2015. Global HIV/AIDS funding
has been declining since 2009.

So although intellectual property rights, and accordingly, generic drugs,
remain "a contentious area" in the negotiations, government "squabbling" has
not been limited to this topic, said Lynch.

And the non-material cost of these high-level arguments? "People living with
HIV are being lost in the shuffle," Lynch concluded.

Joanna Keenan
Press Officer
Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines
Medecins Sans Frontieres


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