July 23 – As Canada seeks to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, the US is using those negotiations to introduce new intellectual property rules that will devastate the ability of developing countries to access affordable anti-retroviral medicines, international agency Oxfam said today.
“Under the influence of the multinational pharmaceutical industry, the US is pushing for enhanced monopoly protection of new medicines, including medicines to treat HIV and AIDS, thus driving up the cost for people living in poverty,” said Dr. Mohga Kamal-Yanni, senior health advisor for Oxfam. “Neither patients nor governments will be able to pay for anti-retroviral medicines urgently needed to address the pandemic.”
The TPP is currently being negotiated between the US and eight countries in Asia-Pacific and Latin America, with Mexico and Canada projected to join soon.
“Canada should also be concerned about the US position at the TPP,” said Oxfam Canada’s Mark Fried, “since it would undermine both Canada’s efforts to help fight AIDS and those of provinces seeking to rein in skyrocketing healthcare costs.”
Strict IP rules prevent low-cost generic versions of medicines from entering the market, and generic competition is the only proven mechanism for lowering prices. Thanks to generic competition, the price for first-line medicines in preferred fixed-dose combinations fell from $10,000 to under $80 per patient per year, making it possible to initiate over eight million people on anti-retroviral therapy over the last decade.
“Despite the US’s own heavy reliance on low-cost generic medicines to meet ambitious AIDS treatment goals, narrow commercial interests are threatening to undo recent gains,” said Kamal-Yanni. “It is stranger than fiction that the US is pursuing strict IP rules in developing countries such as Vietnam, which is one of 16 countries that receives assistance under the US Global AIDS Program.”
The renewed US drive for strict IP rules through trade agreements is coming at an especially inopportune moment. Many of the millions now under treatment are developing resistance to first line drugs and will soon need to switch to new ones, many of which remain under monopoly patent protection and which cost 10 or even 50 times as much.
Such high costs not only threaten ongoing treatment, but will hinder expanding treatment to millions of others who desperately need it.
“At a time when more must be done with less,” said Kamal-Yanni, “US trade policy threatens to put the impetus for universal access to treatment into reverse.”
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">Mark Fried, 613-668-4801