Ralph Nader and James Love February 18, 1999 letter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright regarding NGO/State dialogue on International HIV/AIDS and Intellectual Property

Ralph Nader
P.O. Box 19312, Washington, DC 20036

James Love
Consumer Project on Technology
P.O. Box 19367, Washington, DC 20036
http://www.cptech.org | 202.387.8030; love@cptech.org

February 18, 1999

Secretary Madeleine Albright
Department of State
2201 C St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20520
(202) 647-4000, FAX: (202) 647-7120
E-mail: secretary@state.gov

Re: US State Department briefing on US Diplomatic Initiative on HIV/AIDS

Dear Secretary Albright:

We are writing to express our dismay over the U.S. State Department February 18, 1999 "Meeting with NGO community on U.S. Diplomatic Initiative on International HIV/AIDS." In particular, we strongly object to the decision by Nancy Carter-Foster to ban NGO discussions of intellectual property issues as they relate to the new U.S. Diplomatic Initiative on HIV/AIDS, and her insistence that the Consumer Project on Technology (CPT) not even be permitted to distribute literature about international HIV/intellectual property right disputes.

What is particularly galling about today's incident is that Ms Carter-Foster chaired a similar briefing for the pharmaceutical industry just yesterday, and the issue of compulsory licensing of AIDS drugs was one of five items on the agenda. We are attaching both agendas. For the February 17, 1999 meeting, item four is "Automatic patenting for AIDS drugs." This item was not included in the NGO meeting agenda, and NGO participants were not permitted to even discuss the topic.

We found out about the industry meeting through a bureaucratic snafu. At the close of work on Monday, the 15th, Ms Nancy Carter-Foster sent a fax to CPT saying "We would like to keep you apprised of our progress to date and to involve you in the launch and implementation of the diplomatic initiative," inviting us to the February 17 meeting. CPT replied and indicated James Love would attend. We were then faxed an agenda that included the "automatic patenting" issue.

Apparently CPT was invited as a consequence of having submitted November 6, 1998 comments to the Department of State. These comments specifically addressed compulsory licensing of AIDS drugs in Thailand and other countries, and CPT asked that intellectual property issues be addressed in the International HIV/AIDS document.

When Mr. Love attended yesterday's February 17 meeting, he advised Ms Carter-Foster that he worked for a consumer group, noted that the agenda indicated this was an industry meeting, and asked if a mistake had been made regarding the invitation. Ms Carter-Foster said that yes there had been a mistake and that Mr. Love should leave and return the next day for the meeting with non-industry NGOs. Before leaving, Mr. Love asked about the "automatic licensing" item, and was told the agenda item concerned compulsory licensing of AIDS drugs, and specifically a meeting that CPT, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Health Action International (HAI) were hosting in Geneva on March 26, 1999 to discuss compulsory licensing of essential medicines. Since Mr. Love was in fact one of the organizers of the March 26 Geneva meeting, there was a brief discussion about the meeting before his departure.

When Mr. Love returned to his office he contacted Ms Carter- Foster's staff to make sure he was cleared for the meeting on the 18th, and he asked if the compulsory licensing issue was on the agenda for the NGO briefing. It was not. Mr. Love requested that the compulsory licensing topic be added, noting that it was an agenda item for the Industry briefing, that compulsory licensing of AIDS drugs was the main subject of CPT's November 6, 1998 comments on the International initiative, and that the U.S. was actively engaged in disputes about compulsory licensing in developing countries.

When today's meeting began, Ms. Carter-Foster distributed a three item agenda that did not include compulsory licensing. Ms. Carter-Foster indicated she would permit a five minute discussion of this topic at the conclusion of the meeting. About 50 minutes into the meeting, Ms Carter-Foster asked the attendees to describe their work with international NGOs and other foreign governments. Mr. Love began to describe his work with public health groups and other NGOs and governments in several developing counties on matters concerning intellectual property. He expressed frankly the concerns among public health groups that US State Department staff were often poorly informed on intellectual property disputes, and that the Department of State was widely perceived to have become an unseemly advocate for the interests of the pharmaceutical industry.

Ms Carter-Foster interrupted Mr. Love and indicated that matters concerning intellectual property rights would not be discussed in the meeting, and that Mr. Love would not be permitted to criticize US policy during the meeting. Mr. Love asked to distribute a September 1998 article from the Nation, an English language Thai newspaper, about a trade dispute between the US and Thailand over the compulsory licensing of ddI, an HIV drug invented by the United State government and marketed on an exclusive basis by Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), and BMS and Pfizer drugs used to treat cryptocolcal meningitis, "a fungal infection of the brain that affects 15 to 20 percent of the estimated 900,000 HIV-infected people in Thailand." Ms Carter-Foster interrupted Mr. Love, told him he could not discuss the matter, and could not distribute the article.

Finally, at the end of the hour and a half meeting, an astonishingly patronizing Ms Carter-Foster said that Mr. Love would have three minutes to talk, but that he could not criticize U.S. policy, mention specific disputes, or pass out any literature. Under those constraints, Mr. Love mentioned that policies regarding intellectual property rights were highly relevant to access to HIV/AIDS drugs in developing countries, that this was a major issue with governments around the world, and that the US government was very active in these disputes. Mr. Love said citizen of the United States have a right to ask the government to (1) state what US policies on intellectual property rights are (2), provide the documents and analysis that justify those policies, and (3) to discuss these polices with public health groups.

Clearly American citizens have a right to know what our policies are on these topics, and we do not accept the notion that the Department of State will only consult with the pharmaceutical companies on these important issues.

We ask that you provide a second NGO briefing to specifically discuss U.S. policies on intellectual property and access to HIV/AIDS drugs in developing countries. Furthermore, we ask that such a meeting be held with adequate notice. As indicated above, CPT received less than 48 hours notice of the meeting on the 17th. Moreover, the short notice prevented others from attending. For example, on the 16th, less than a day after we heard about the meeting, Mr. Eric Sawyer, a New York City AIDS activist, contacted the Department of State asking for clearance to attend the NGO meeting on the 18th. His clearance was not approved until 11 am today, about two hours before the meeting. As a consequence of the short notice, Mr. Sawyer, who lives in New York, could not attend.

We look forward to your undelegated response so that your views about this important matter are conveyed directly to us and the public.


Ralph Nader                        James Love  

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