Calling for an "AIDS free generation" but trading away our lives

Some of the loudest and most passionate demonstrations at the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) condemned the United States and European Union trade agreement negotiations which aim to protect the profits of pharmaceutical companies and let people in low and middle income countries die for their sake. During her address to the conference, Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, with an air of optimism, joined the call for an "AIDS free generation", highlighting the fact that the tools for its achievement exist. At the same time, her government, through negotiations for the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), is pushing to radically expand pharmaceutical company monopolies and therefore maintain high prices on and limited access to life-saving medicines for HIV and associated co-morbidities. "Today US trade policy is threatening to undermine US AIDS policy," said Peter Maybarduk of Public Citizen, a prominent US consumer rights group.

The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement will severely limit generic competition (the force driving the price reductions which have enabled expanded access in many low income countries).  According to leaked information (the content of the negotiations are being kept secret because they are so deadly), the new agreements go further to protect pharmaceutical company interests than previous ones.  The provisions will expand patentability.  It will be possible to patent new uses of old drugs and minor variations of existing drugs (such as a new form of a drug eg. a tablet rather than a capsule).  The latter could severely jeopardize access by babies and children as they require different drug forms such as syrups and powders.  Measures are included which would make it impossible for stakeholders to oppose patents before they are granted.  The agreement would protect “data exclusivity,” (which prohibits the use of originator’s data for registration of generic equivalents) promoting wasteful spending and the unethical practice re-researching medicines already proven safe and effective.  The provisions would limit application of 'Doha' flexibilities which gives countries ways to access generics for public health needs.  

The TPPA negations are ongoing with 9 countries of the pacific region; they may be expanded over time to include all of the 21 countries of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.  Many of these same provisions, such as expanded data exclusivity for example, are also being pursued by the EU in its trade negations with partner countries.  If US and EU trade negotiations are successful, they will lead to later market entry for generics, artificially high drug prices, and late and limited access especially for new and second line drugs which are now so important for optimum treatment outcomes.  Through acts of protest throughout the conference including: thousands of activists gathered outside the office of the US Trade Representative, shouting “pharma greed kills,” during the March to End AIDS; the unfurling a banner protesting the TPPA during Hillary Clinton’s presentation; a demonstration condemning EU defense of pharma interests outside EU country booths, activists reminded participants and press that these trade negations are deadly and need to be opposed if we are to achieve universal access and an AIDS free generation.

Shona Schonning - CNS