COMPULSORY LICENSING: Activists Demonstrate at WTO
AIDS activists are expected to press the issue of compulsory licensing and parallel importing for AIDS treatments in developing countries at this week's meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle, WA, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. According to AIDS activists, adjusting the rules governing those two provisions in the WTO rules would allow developing countries hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic to produce their own treatments and cut the costs of those drugs by nearly 80%. John James of AIDS Treatment News said that the issue "is not going to go away," adding that "90% of the people in the world needing HIV medications are not able to afford them." The issue was brought to the fore last summer when AIDS activists heckled presidential hopeful Vice President Al Gore on the campaign trial, forcing the Clinton administration to "rethink its opposition to efforts by South Africa to cut the cost of its AIDS drugs." Although South Africa has not yet moved to make cheaper AIDS drugs, Thailand announced this month that it will seek a compulsory license from Bristol-Myers Squibb to make the AIDS drug ddI. As Thailand tries to negotiate a deal with the pharmaceutical giant, the outcome will "be closely watched," the Chronicle reports.
Lending an Ear?
However, at the conference, which begins Tuesday, it is unlikely that any changes will be made to the rules governing compulsory licensing and parallel importing. Mark Grayson, a spokesperson for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, explained that the provisions infringe on intellectual property laws and could potentially eliminate millions of dollars in revenue used for further research and development of new, better treatments. He said, "We don't believe parallel importing is proper. A lot of parallel imports come from places like India, and half the time there are no active ingredients. It's killing patients, causing drug resistance and giving false hope." Nonetheless, AIDS activists are prepared to "keep the issue in the public eye." They are hoping to persuade WTO leaders to form a working group to look into access to "essential medicines" in conjunction with the World Health Organization (Russell, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/24). At a meeting of more than 100 nongovernmental health organizations in Amsterdam last weekend, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Doctors Without Borders President Dr. James Orbinski directed attention to the "growing crisis of access to essential medicines," particularly in developing countries. In light of this week's meeting, Orbinski called for an end to U.S. pressure that has discouraged developing countries from using compulsory licensing to drive down drug costs (Hoffmann, Boston Globe, 11/27). "No one is sure how many to expect, but there also will be marches, rallies and teach-ins and, according to some accounts, civil disobedience with protestors unfurling giant banners as they rappel down skyscrapers and bridges" at the WTO meeting this week (Blumenthal, Sacramento Bee/Capitol Alert, 11/28). And last week, five AIDS activists chained themselves to the balcony of U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky's office in protest of the WTO patent rules (Hornblower/Beech/Frank/Graff, Time Magazine, 11/29 issue).