The US, EU and other rich nations are hoping to make stricter patent laws that will eventually hinder access to anti-retroviral drugs. The ARV drugs are available in a generic form and are distributed widely thought Africa and other poor nations to combat AIDS. If the stricter patent laws are accepted by the United Nations those generic ARV drugs might no longer be available to those who need them to live.
From the Inter Press Service, writer Elizabeth Whitman explains the battle over generic AIDS drugs.
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 AIDS. 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 Rights (TRIPS) 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, 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 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.