Saturday, May 28, 2005

CAFTA's potential impact on people with HIV

Rahul Rajkumar, a member of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, wrote an op-ed piece in the Boston Globe about the potential impact of CAFTA's provisions regarding protection of intellectual property and data rights for pharmaceutical companies. He fears that the provisions will make it difficult for Central American countries to have access to inexpensive generic drugs to combat HIV-AIDS:

The office of the US trade representative maintains that nothing in the agreement prevents governments from producing generic drugs and that it will result in increased access to life-saving drugs as stringent patent protection encourages innovation in drug development.

The first of these claims is, unfortunately, false. CAFTA's protection for drug test data ensures that while countries may be able to produce generic drugs, they won't be able to use them. The second statement is partially true but so disingenuous that it verges on outright deception. Increased protection for patent rights will certainly give drug companies larger profits, and this could theoretically lead to more innovation. However, the pharmaceutical market in Central America is so small that any increase in earnings will be negligible relative to the overall profits of the pharmaceutical giants. Patients in Central America will most likely end up getting nothing in return for the higher prices.

Congress will decide whether CAFTA goes into effect when it votes to ratify the agreement. Many lives ride on the outcome of this vote. Most of the 275,000 HIV-positive people in Central America will die needlessly without access to cheap antiretroviral drugs. Congress can save these lives by voting down CAFTA and telling the Bush administration to renegotiate the agreement's intellectual-property provisions. Could there be any better way to demonstrate our dedication to the culture of life?

Ratification of CAFTA is stalled in the US Congress. Recent tallies shows 230 representatives against the treaty; only 218 are necessary to block its ratification.

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