ABC, Radio Australia
Ensuring Free Trade Agreements don’t impede access to HIV treatments
1 June 2012
The UN’s top agency for HIV-AIDS has warned that million of lives could be at risk, if intellectual property and other trade agreements impede access to treatment.
UNAIDS says developing countries are facing mounting challenges to produce or procure affordable HIV treatment, due to cutbacks in AIDS funding and increasingly restrictive intellectual property measures in Free Trade Agreements.
Shiba Phurailatpam is regional coordinator of the Bangkok-based Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV.
He says the medicines are crucial to thousands of people in the region.
Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Shiba Phurailatpam, regional coordinator of the Bangkok-based Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV
PHURAILATPAM: It’s a matter of life and death. So if we look back ten years ago, HIV medicine, just at its most basic, the first line treatment cost more than ten-thousand US dollars per person per year. And then when Indian generic companies started producing the drugs locally, the price dropped to less than one hundred dollars per person per year. And that’s why we’re able to put so many people on treatments, keeping them alive, as well as preventing further transmissions.
So if all these Free Trade Agreements are signed, both by the United States or the European Union, then we’re basically going back to where we were ten, or fifteen years ago, where no one was able to afford treatments. For example, I have lost so many friends, because they just simply could not afford (the treatments). So that’s the situation we are going to see, if all these intellectual property rights through the Free Trade Agreement has been signed by developing countries.
And the generic companies in the developing countries are not allowed to manufacture or produce those medicines. So that also means the patent is held by one or two companies, which is the originator, and they can sell the price of the drugs as much as the price which they want, which is unaffordable for many of us.
LAM: How many people are currently not getting the treatment they need?
PHURAILATPAM: So, in our region, about sixty percent of the people who need treatments are not getting them.
LAM: This is sixty percent of an estimated one million people?
PHURAILATPAM: Yes, yes. So we have more than five million people living with HIV in the Asia Pacific region, and then out of that five or six million people living with HIV, many of them need treatment right now, but many are not getting them. The reason why people are not getting treatment is the cost of treatment, that is one big problem. And then there are a number of people increasingly needing second-line treatment now, and because of the treatment cost, our governments are not able to provide that.
LAM: What about the so-called ’flexibilities’ in the WTO Trades-related property rights, or TRIPS declaration? There were some ’flexibilities’ that were worked into the agreement .. are they effective in helping poor countries access treatment?
PHURAILATPAM: Yes, some countries are using these flexibilities such as India or Thailand, for example. So that’s why they’re able to produce some of those key medicines to treat HIV. So for example, if the price of the drugs is too high, and you can’t afford them, then the government is allowed to issue compulsory licence, so that they can manufacture or produce those drugs in the country. But in many countries, there are Free Trade Agreements going on between, say, for example, with the European Union, or the United States, so through these Free Trade Agreements, the government of the United States, or the European Union, are pushing alot more tougher intellectual property rights than what we agreed to, in the WTO.
And then, now, we know that the HIV treatment can also prevent further HIV or sexual transmissions. So that means the more people we put on treatment, we’re going to prevent more infections. And if we look at the HIV medications that people use now across the world, up to eighty-five percent of the HIV medicines used, including Africa or Asia, are actually coming from India. So if that supply line is blocked, then we know what’s going to happen.
So similarly, through the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement that the US is negotiating, so Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Australia and New Zealand from our region are part of it, so if the US government is pushing similar provisions through this Free Trade Agreement as well, so we’re very concerned about it.