The long-running trade dispute between the US and India over
intellectual property (IP) rights could leave millions of people without
access to life-saving medications and cripple programs like the President's
Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the respected global AIDS
On Tuesday, the Office
of the US Trade Representative (USTR) released yet another salvo in
retaliation for India's alleged IP transgressions, this time in the
renewable energy sector, by filing a case with the World Trade
Organization (WTO). Last year, USTR placed India on a trade watch list
for flouting Big Pharma drug patents.
Advocates from AIDS
Healthcare Foundation (AHF) decried the move, noting that Indian
pharmaceutical manufacturers supply much of the developing world with
affordable medicines for diseases such as HIV and cancer by producing
generic versions of patented drugs at a fraction of the cost of brand
Under the WTO TRIPS agreement, countries have the discretion to
disregard patent protections for drug formulations in cases of public
health emergencies, such as the H1N1 bird flu pandemic in 2009 and the
global HIV/AIDS epidemic.
"Despite TRIPS, US trade officials are once again ratcheting up presure
on India for what they view as patent infringement against Big Pharma,"
said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
"Ironically, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, often
rightfully touted as one of the most successful US foreign aid programs,
purchases more than eighty percent of its antiretroviral drugs from
generic manufacturers, a move that saves taxpayers billions of dollars.
Yet the Obama administration is now advocating a policy that will make
these lifesaving drugs unavailable to those most in need. This is a
betrayal of what most see as the most basic values and principles of our
Whether diametrically opposed positions on foreign aid and foreign trade
are a symptom of hypocrisy or mismanagement remains to be seen, but in
either case it's clear Big Pharma is pressuring the policy makers in
order to increase their profits at the expense of human life, from those
who simply cannot afford drugs like Gilead's new $1,000-per-pill
Until now India has remained steadfast in the face of US threats to
impose trade sanctions, which means most of the world's 12 million
people on generic antiretroviral medication for HIV/AIDS will stay
alive, for now, but eventually the price they pay may become intolerable.
"Whenever a natural disaster strikes around the world, the US government
is often the first to offer assistance and humanitarian aid, but when
Big Pharma's commercial interests stand in the way of millions of people
affected by one of the greatest human tragedies of our time getting
affordable lifesaving antiretroviral medicine, the US government is
content to simply step aside," said Dr. Jorge Saavedra, Global
Ambassador for AIDS Healthcare Foundation and a former Global Fund Board
Member. "For the past year-and-a-half, President Obama has touted his
goal of an 'AIDS Free Generation' and has also pledged the largest
contributions to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and
Malaria. Looks like a paradox, on one side both PEPFAR and the Global
Fund rely on affordable generics produced in India, and at the same
time, another branch of the US Government administration continues to
impose and expand strict trade enforcement sanctions against that same
country, which most of the developing world depends on to obtain
lifesaving medications in order to try to stop the global HIV epidemic."
PEPFAR is the successful US global AIDS program that President George W.
Bush first proposed in his 2003 State of the Union address. At a
celebration honoring the 10th
anniversary of PEPFAR in June 2013, Secretary of State John Kerry
announced that the number of people on treatment supported by PEPFAR had
risen to six million, and that globally, one million babies had been
born HIV-free thanks to PEPFAR-supported efforts.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS
organization, currently provides medical care and/or services to more
than 282,000 individuals in 32 countries worldwide in the US, Africa,
Latin America/Caribbean, the Asia/Pacific Region and Eastern Europe. To
learn more about AHF, please visit our website: www.aidshealth.org,
find us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/aidshealth
and follow us on Twitter: @aidshealthcare.
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