WTO uses AIDS patients to cover up development round failure

The amendment to the TRIPS-agreement hailed by WTO members fails to ensure access to affordable medicines, say international AIDS organisations.

By making permanent the waiver adopted August 30th, 2003, WTO is blocking access to affordable medicines for countries with little or no production capacity. These countries will be denied the possibility of importing generic medications from countries with production capacity. Moreover, by removing incentives for manufacturers, generic production of recent and future medicines (including the most needed second-line AIDS treatment) will be strongly discouraged.

Health experts worldwide have denounced the TRIPS amendment as a bad deal, which will cripple an effective response to public health needs. “How can a system that requires order-by-order, drug-by-drug, country-by-country procedures be seen as an improvement?” says Mauro Guarinieri, chair of the Global Network of People living with HIV and AIDS (GNP+).

Pascal Lamy, WTO Director-General, Peter Mandelson, EU Trade Commissioner, Rob Portman, US Trade Representative, and Harvey Bale, director of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers, all herald the TRIPS amendment as a great success, claiming it is proof of the WTO taking into account the needs of developing countries. In reality the WTO’s decision of December 6th introduces in the agreement cumbersome and more restrictive mechanism than the already existing flexibilities. The amendment goes against the primacy of health over trade, a principle that was unanimously approved in Doha by the same WTO.

AIDS organizations worldwide denounce the hypocrisy and gross exploitation of people’s needs and rights to health under the new agreement. “Pascal Lamy and others wanted to make sure the issue was off the table before Hong Kong. And to use it to cover up the fact that the current talks a complete failure,” says Wim Vandevelde, board member of the European AIDS Treatment Group.

The countries endorsing this amendment include the same which committed to universal access to antiretrovirals by 2010. “With this amendment they go against the grain of their earlier commitments. Moreover, some of them are also engaging in bilateral TRIPS+ negotiations, pushing for more restrictive provisions than those actually required by TRIPS.”

“This is the same scenario we witnessed in Cancun where developing countries were caving in on health in the hope of getting benefits in other areas,” says Khalil Elouardighi of ACT-UP Paris. “Benefits the developing countries never received.”

WTO Members have until Dec. 1, 2007, to ratify the amendment by two thirds of its 149 members. This means that members still have the right to object and revoke this unfortunate, harmful and hasty decision. AIDS organizations urge countries to make sure the primacy of health is not undermined by the current solution, to protect their citizens’ legitimate aspiration to enjoy full access to life-saving medications, and to turn down a solution that only serves the interests of rich countries and of the pharmaceutical companies.

Source: Joint press release: ACT-UP Paris, Global network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, Eurapean AIDS Treatment Group. 16 December 2005.

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