WTO: people with aids demand a moratorium

From November 9 through 13, in Qatar, the WTO is scheduled to take a position on access to drugs for people with aids in developing countries. African governments have asked for a moratorium on WTO lawsuits against poor countries who use cheap drug copies to treat their sick. The developed countries are opposing this request, and the WTO is siding with them.

Today, some 24 people-with-aids and fight-against-aids organizations have sent an open letter to the WTO, to support the proposal of developing countries and to demand that the WTO recognize the absolute primacy of health concerns.

Every day, thousands of people who could be treated die. The price of drugs plays a determining role in this hecatomb. The multiplication of manufacturers is therefore essential, in order to assure sustainable access to the full range of anti-HIV/aids drugs for people with aids in poor countries.

The international agreements on intellectual property authorize countries to produce or import copies of drugs. Some of the anti-HIV drugs are manufactured in certain countries, like India or Brazil, where they are already sold at low prices - which incidentally forces the pharmaceutical multinationals to align their prices. But the majority of developing countries, under Western pressure, still hesitate to authorize the production or importation of copies of drugs, fearing economic reprisals. Thus, local production so far concerns only a very few special countries, and it is still impossible to find affordable versions of the most recent and effective HIV drugs, anywhere in the world.

This is why the countries of the Organization of African Unity have asked the WTO that in November, firm, official guarantees be given to countries who wish to resort to copies of drugs.

Quality affordable generic medicines must be freely manufactured and distributed throughout the developing world, without fear of economic reprisals. Beyond the moratorium requested by poor countries, the very rules of the game clearly need to be changed.

Today, as the Council of TRIPs (Trade-Related Intellectual Property rights) begins, an open letter of NGOs has been sent the WTO. Mr Geuze of the TRIPs Council office has refused to take a position, and Mr Moore, the WTO's director, to even speak about it. Yet it is the director's moral duty to respond to people-with-aids and aids fight NGOs, and to officially support developing countries=B9 request for access to health.

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