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AIDS Activists Say US Trade Policies Restrict Access to Treatment - 2004-07-06

The 15th International AIDS conference starting in Thailand Sunday has as its official theme, "Access for All," a reference to the need for everyone to have access to AIDS treatment. AIDS rights groups claim U.S. trade policies are undermining access to inexpensive treatment.

AIDS activists gathering in Bangkok ahead of the 15th International AIDS Conference are warning that U.S. trade policies threaten HIV-AIDS patients' access to affordable drugs and medical care.

Sharonann Lynch, the director of international policy for the U.S. Global Access Project, says trade agreements being negotiated by the United States include protection for the intellectual property rights of patent medicines produced by big multinational drug companies.

She says these agreements make it difficult for poorer countries to produce their own, generic, versions of drugs used to extend the lives of many HIV-AIDS patients.

"These agreements include a variety of intellectual property and related provisions that would make it difficult or impossible for countries to introduce generic competition for products while they remain on patent," she explained.

Defenders of intellectual property rights point out that without patent protection private drug companies would not spend the millions of dollars it costs to do the research necessary to develop life-saving medicines, including AIDS drugs.

Some developing countries, such as Thailand and India, are producing generic drugs and have drastically cut medical costs for individual patients and government treatment programs.

But some drug production programs, such as those in Thailand, do not cover more powerful drugs used when other medications lose efficacy in the latter stages of the disease.

Global Access Project's Ms. Lynch explains that these life-extending drugs are the ones threatened by U.S. trade agreements.

"There are immense challenges facing Thailand people who need second line medication - and that has also been threatened by U.S. policies," she added.

The group voiced its concerns as the United Nations released a report showing that in 2003, the world saw the sharpest jump ever in the number of HIV and AIDS cases since the disease was discovered more than two decades ago.

The U.N. report says that AIDS is spreading unchecked in parts of Asia. It says China, Indonesia and Vietnam all reported sharp increases in HIV infections last year, and the situation is serious in Burma, Cambodia, and Thailand.