Magazine article New Internationalist

Hanging in the Balance: Intellectual Property May Be the Most Arcane Area of Trade Negotiations. but It Is a Matter of Life and Death for Millions. Already the WTO's Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Has Cost the Majority World Dearly. Recent Trade Negotiations Could Increase the Price

Magazine article New Internationalist

Hanging in the Balance: Intellectual Property May Be the Most Arcane Area of Trade Negotiations. but It Is a Matter of Life and Death for Millions. Already the WTO's Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Has Cost the Majority World Dearly. Recent Trade Negotiations Could Increase the Price

Article excerpt

3 Changing the rules

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Nations should have the power to establish and defend intellectual property rules that protect the interests of their citizens. Trade agreements must guarantee access to essential drugs, prohibit the erosion of traditional cultures and protect indigenous knowledge and biodiversity.

YDU'D never know that Jesus Gulis has spent eight years living with HIV. The energetic young man appears fit and healthy and works long hours as president of PROSA, a Peruvian non-profit agency supporting HW patients. But Jesus' condition hasn't always been so stable - three months ago his immune system was dangling by a thread, leaving him susceptible to a host of deadly illnesses. He began taking antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, often called 'the AIDS cocktail'. The results were dramatic.

However, the medication has nasty side effects, including nausea and rashes. 'And I can't eat chocolate - ever,' says Jesus wistfully. But, he adds, 'it is the only medication that works for me. And I've tried everything out there.'

Antiretrovirals in the US and Canada have reduced deaths for people with HFV by about 70 per cent and improved the quality and length of life. Now a new Peruvian government programme is distributing free antiretrovirals to Jesus and other HIV patients. The initiative works because of cheap generic drugs from India and support from the Global Fund - a UN foundation which provides money to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. But Jesus worries that a free trade agreement between the US and Andean nations will cut off Peru's supply of generics.

This could be a life-or-death issue for the 76,000 Peruvians battling HIV/AIDS. Once patients begin taking antiretrovirals they must continue the regimen. Missing just one day could send Jesus' immune system into crisis.

Earlier this year, Jesus and fellow activists won an impressive victory, convincing the Government to pass a law mandating free antiretrovirals for all people infected with HIV. The programme is still desperately short of funds and understaffed. But Jesus says it is an important start.

He points to the success of Brazil's National AIDS Programme which has provided treatment to HIV patients for nearly a decade. With the help of affordable generic drugs the country averted 90,000 AIDS-related deaths from 1996 to 2002 and avoided 358,000 AIDSrelated hospitalizations. This added up to a saving of more than $2 billion - proving that universal AIDS care is not just a humanitarian issue, it also makes economic sense.

'Unfortunately, the new law won't make any difference if the Government is unable to purchase medication after the free trade treaty is signed,' says Jesus.

Currently, generic antiretrovirals in Peru cost about $408 a year per person, compared to $4,300 for brand name drugs. That means the Government can treat 10 times as many HIV patients by purchasing generic medication. The benefits also extend to other diseases such as malaria, Chagas and tuberculosis, all of which can be treated with generics. In a country like Peru, where over 50 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, generic medication is a lifesaver.

But the transnational drug companies don't have much patience for poverty. Big Pharma has declared war on generics and its allies in the US Government are bullying developing nations to sign trade treaties that further their interests at the expense of the world's poor.

The onslaught by Big Pharrna began a decade ago when good friends at the World Trade Organization handed unprecedented rights to patent holders under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The treaty blocked signatories from purchasing affordable generic medications. But in 2001 developing nations scored a counter-victory when the WTO signed the Doha Declaration, which provides loopholes to safeguard public health. Doha states that, under the TRIPS agreement, protection of public health is more important than protection of private property rights. …

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