“Landmark” Global Commission On HIV And Law Report Tough On IP System

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An independent, UN-led multistakeholder group today issued strong recommendations on ways to improve ongoing global efforts to address HIV/AIDS. Among them – serious questions about the current intellectual property rights system.

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law issued its potentially high-impact report today, available here.

In chapter 6 on IP rights, it takes aim at numerous big questions of the day, such as counterfeiting, enforcement, drug pricing, innovation, free trade agreements, and use of flexibilities under the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

The report presents evidence in charts and graphs calling into doubt the effectiveness for HIV treatment of the current IP system. In particular, a chart shows that in the United States government approval of new molecular entities shot up the year after TRIPS went into effect (1995) but long since returned to pre-TRIPS levels or below. And innovation in developed countries often is for cosmetic drugs rather than life-saving ones, it said.

“TRIPS was meant to strike a balance between the rights of innovators and the rights of consumers,” the report states. “In reality, the balance has tipped dangerously in favour of the rights holders.”

The report links high prices from patents to deaths of people who cannot access the treatments they need.

It says pharmaceutical companies do not get the credit for lower prices on some drugs in recent years. “While some pharmaceutical companies have entered into agreements to off er medicines at reduced prices, their actions cannot be credited for the dramatic rise in treatment,” the report said. “Rather, AIDS treatment activists coordinated international campaigns to boost domestic and donor funding. This, coupled with competition from generic manufacturers like Cipla’s ‘game-changing’ offer to provide triple combination treatment for less than a dollar a day in 2001, greatly increased treatment coverage.”

It also says trade agreements are making drugs less accessible to developing countries that sign them. “[R]ecent bilateral and multilateral trade agreements … have undoubtedly increased the power of pharmaceutical patent holders to control the prices of drugs on global markets,” it said. “Governments, especially in low- and middle-income countries, cannot afford them.”

The commission was convened by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on behalf of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and chaired by former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark gave a speech today on the report.

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network issued a statement, here, welcoming the many “strong” recommendations of the commission.

The Canadian group said: “Decriminalize drugs for personal use. Repeal laws that criminalize sex work. Implement comprehensive harm reduction services in prisons. Ensure access to health services for migrants. Fully enforce measures to end violence against women and ensure access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services. Create simple mechanisms for access to lower-cost, generic medicines and adopt a global moratorium on international trade agreements that would limit such access. These are just a few of the strong recommendations in a powerful global overview released today by the Global Commission on HIV and the Law.”

William New may be reached at wnew@ip-watch.ch.

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