Appointment of industry executive to supervise US AIDS initiative provokes criticism

US President George W Bush has appointed Randy Tobias, former CEO and now Chairman Emeritus of Eli Lilly & Co, one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, to supervise America’s multi-billion dollar international AIDS initiative.

The appointment has provoked immediate criticism for giving such a senior government role to a high-ranking industry figure amid international arguments over whether public money should spent on generic drugs or on more expensive branded drugs produced by the leading drug companies.

“This decision is another troubling sign that the President may not be prepared to fulfill his pledge to take emergency action on AIDS,” said Dr Paul Zeitz, Executive Director of the Global AIDS Alliance. “This raises serious questions of conflict of interest and the priorities of the White House. Both the people of Africa and the people of the United States will lose if the President’s AIDS initiative fails to use the lowest-cost, generic medications. Africans will be left with less medicine and more will die.”

“We call on the Senate to carefully scrutinise this nomination. Senators from both sides of the aisle should fully investigate the continuing relationship between Mr Tobias and the pharmaceutical industry. Hard questions need to be asked about whether Mr Tobias will continue the Bush Administration’s policy of blocking access to lowest-cost generic medicines for the poorest nations.”

The Washington Post reports that Tobias and Lilly have been major donors to the Republican Party and to Bush’s election campaign in 2000. Later this month, Tobias is scheduled to host a $5,000-per-person dinner for former US budget director Mitch Daniels, a former Lilly executive who is now running for Governor of Indiana.

The White House, after intervention by the pharmaceutical industry, was the only holdout blocking a WTO agreement to allow generic antiretrovirals to be imported into nations facing public health emergencies. The White House position went against the instructions of Congress in the fast-track legislation to respect the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health.

Patented AIDS medicines can cost upwards of $10,000 per patient each year even though generic prices have dropped to less than a dollar a day. Africa is still waiting for access to medicine to treat AIDS and other infectious diseases.

Source: Global AIDS Alliance

The Global AIDS Alliance has posted on its website a report that reviews the president’s unfulfilled promises related to the global AIDS epidemic:

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