United, led by AIDS patients and advocates, world’s most impoverished countries get extension on affordable access to critical goods

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Source: World Trade Organization (http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/dda_e/negotiating_groups_maps_e.htm?group_selected=GRP007)

Source: World Trade Organization (Click on image to enlarge)

Countries with the greatest odds against them won time today, successfully negotiating for another eight years during which they can get medicines, educational supplies, and techonologies essential to their development at prices they can afford. The extension of the agreement giving the world’s least developed countries exemption from implementing the  full standards of patent protection observed by wealthy countries means impoverished countries will, for the time being, preserve access to generic antiretroviral drugs essential to fighting HIV effectively in some of the hardest hit countries.

This is because pricing set by pharmaceutical companies for patented drugs is impossible for poor countries to afford, particularly on a massive scale. While the cost of a year’s worth of antiretroviral drugs for a patient in the United States costs about $30,000, developing countries pay as little as $89 a year, noted Jennifer Flynn, of Health GAP Global Access Project.

“This is just a partial victory,” said Flynn, emphasizing it was an important one all the same, preserving the right of these countries to apply for further extensions. Preferable, however, Flynn added, would have been an agreement, urged by AIDS treatment advocates and others, tying implementation of full intellectual property rules under the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement to successful development, beyond “Least Developed Country” status.

Currently 49 countries, have “LDC” status — defined by low health, nutrition and literacy indicators, gross national income of less than $1190, per capita, per year, and economic vulnerability. With 34 of the countries in Africa, 14 in Asia and the Pacific, and one, Haiti, in Latin America, they are populated by about 12 percent of the world’s people, but account for about 1 percent of the global trade, according to the United Nations.

Hait submitted the application for the extension and received strong support from Uganda, Flynn said. Haiti has shown noted success in fighting its AIDS epidemic against odds that have included natural disasters and externally imposed economic constraints, while Uganda is seeing a reversal of its early apparent success in confronting HIV, with rising incidence in recent years. U.S. Congressional Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D- CA) Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Karen Bass (D-CA), and Janice Schakowsky (D-IL) were among supporters of extending the countries’ access to generic good.

“We are concerned that if LDCs are required to fully implement TRIPS while still ‘least developed,'” the Representatives wrote in a May 14 letter to Acting United States Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis, “this could limit access to quality, affordable medicines to fight HIV, malaria and other diseases; educational and information resources, and agricultural goods and green technology.”

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