Pope Benedict, and conservative Catholics who support him – along with fundamentalist Christians – advocate abstinence, contending sex is only permissible between married adults, and that condoms are unacceptable because they prevent procreation. "His opposition to condoms conveys that religious dogma is more important to him than the lives of Africans." said Rebecca Hodes of the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa. March 2009.
Forty million people in the world are living with AIDS. Most of them are in developing countries; women and children are the most affected. The development of new medicines has made it possible for people suffering from this disease to extend their lifespan and improve their quality of life. But this is only true for people in industrialized countries. Those born in the South are not so lucky: 95% live and die without ever accessing proper treatment.
According to the report “AIDS epidemic update 2003” published by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization, “urgent efforts are needed to rapidly expand access to treatment in order to help prevent the devastating effects of the millions of estimated new HIV infections and deaths”. The patent regime that regulates trade in medicines is one of the main obstacles standing in the way of universal access.
The United Nations, by way of its specialized agencies, has called for mass access to treatment. Bodies such as the World Health Organization and UNAIDS are conducting negotiations based on the “goodwill” of the parties involved, abstaining from making any statements concerning the catastrophic consequences of the patent regime.
On 1 December 2003, in the framework of the World AIDS Day celebrations, these two agencies launched their latest joint initiative: the “3 by 5”, a strategy aimed at providing antiretroviral therapy to three million people infected with HIV by the end of the year 2005.
Civil society, along with some developing countries, has been mobilizing to change a situation which favors transnational corporations and countries benefiting from corporate interests.
In South Africa several pharmaceutical companies filed a complaint against the government when it passed a law authorizing generic drug manufacture and imports. In April 2001 they withdrew the complaint as a result of joint pressures from civil society and local government. In the year 2003, NGOs scored another major victory when they succeeded in securing that government’s commitment to the implementation of a national antiretroviral therapy program.
Brazil has found an alternative solution to the patent issue. Based on a free interpretation of WTO regulations, it is promoting generic drug production. This, combined with a national health policy, has improved access to treatment, in both quantitative and qualitative terms.
This successful experience, however, is threatened by the negotiations for the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which include proposals that expand the scope of application of patent regulations and reduce the possibilities for government intervention. Something similar occurs with the talks for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with the United States. With this tendency, the United States is going against the global consensus reached at Doha.
AIDS 2008 - Mexico D.F, 3-8 August 2008 This conference organised by the International AIDS Society is the largest international conference existing on the issue. See the coverage by Choike of the event held in Mexico City, 3-8 August 2008.
Promoted by African governments and supported by the G8, NEPAD has been largely criticized by civil society organizations.
Health and health services, goods for sale
Is privatization the answer to health care problems that affect the poor?
Patents and medicines
What about equal opportunities for developed and developing countries to obtain medicines their populations need?
Build a global united front for HIV prevention and treatment in South Africa
Despite enormous financial investment and some advances (a result of civil society struggle) in treatment of HIV - more than 1000 new infections occur every day and more than 800 deaths occur every day in South Africa.
Pope Benedict, and conservative Catholics who support him – along with fundamentalist Christians – advocate abstinence, contending sex is only permissible between married adults, and that condoms are unacceptable because they prevent procreation. March 2009.
The global AIDS epidemic continues to grow and there is concerning evidence that some countries are seeing a resurgence in new HIV infection rates which were previously stable or declining according to the 2006 AIDS Epidemic Update. Almost three-quarters of deaths from Aids in 2006 occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa and two-thirds of those living with HIV are in that area. November 2006.
This report explores the latest developments in the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, most recent estimates of the epidemic's scope and human toll, as well as maps, regional summaries and a special section on the situation of women regarding AIDS. December 2004.
TAC (Treatment Action Campaign) is a South African NGO. One of its main objectives is to target pharmaceutical companies to lower the costs of all HIV/AIDS medications and maintain pressure on the government to fulfill its HIV/AIDS obligations. It has played a key role in the TNC court affaire (see below "The South African case")
With 22,000 experts and activists gathered in Mexico City for the International AIDS Conference, policy makers should not have a hard time finding examples of best practices and lessons learned from all over the globe. August 2008.
A declaration, endorsed by 24 nongovernmental organizations and networks around the world, affirms that, now more than ever, human rights should occupy the center of the global struggle against HIV and AIDS. (PDF). November 2007.
In this report, Human Rights Watch calls on UN member states to fulfill the commitments made in June for the full participation of nongovernmental organizations in the global response to AIDS. August 2006.
Civil society groups from around the world denounced the final UN Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS, released after marathon negotiations during the UN High Level meeting on AIDS that took place 31 May - 2 June at UN Headquarters. Civil society groups have been working to strengthen the document’s language and commitments on critical aspects of sexual and reproductive health and rights. May 2006.
TAC and Medécins Sans Frontières have imported generic antiretroviral medicines from Brazil. By doing this in breach of the
country's patent law at much lower prices, TAC and MSF are challenging both the South African government and the pharmaceutical industry.
This consensus charter amplifies the voices of the people affected, infected, living with and suffering from HIV/AIDS. It provides a people’s perspective on HIV/ AIDS and related issues like access, rights and trade issues. The charter will be officially released to the international community during the International AIDS conference at Bangkok (July 11-16, 2004).
This article looks at the reasons for the spread of HIV/AIDS, provides some pointers on fighting it and argues for the urgent need to defend and justify the public sector and public ownership of resources when it comes to health care. March 2006.
"We, African civil society organizations comprising organizations and networks of people living with HIV, young people, women, religious leaders and community workers at the frontline of the fight against AIDS, met in Abuja, Nigeria on April 10 to 12 2006 to develop a consolidated position for use during the review processes of the Abuja Declaration and Framework Plan for action, and the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on AIDS (UNGASS) Declaration of Commitment (DoC), and to chart a way forward regarding access for all people requiring information and services related to HIV prevention, care, support and treatment. This statement reflects the outcomes of these deliberations, as well as the sentiments of the undersigned African Civil Society Organisations." April 2006.
This ActionAid briefing explores how International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan conditions to developing countries are undermining the fight against HIV/AIDS. The author argues that the global community is ready to scale-up levels of foreign aid to help poorer countries finance the much needed greater public spending to fight HIV/AIDS. However, IMF fears that increased public spending will lead to higher rates of inflation have resulted in limited resources being available for public health. The author argues that while inflation hurts the poor, not increasing public health budgets to fight HIV/AIDS also hurts the poor and decisions should be made locally. September 2004 (pdf version).
Will the aim of ‘access for all’ to life-saving medicines ever be met? This was the main issue inside and outside the halls of the recent international conference on AIDS in Bangkok. Speakers warned that patents and bilateral free trade agreements are undermining the patients' access to drugs, but also pointed to compulsory licences as a vital way out of the problem.
According to this paper, access to HIV/AIDS treatment can be substantially improved through: 1) stimulating generic competition; 2) implementing differential pricing; 3) making use of the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and public health; and 4) fostering regional and local production through licensing and technology transfer.
According to this article, developing countries are not exactly queuing up at the US Trade Department to take advantage of flexible patent regulations allowing them to access cheaper AIDS drugs. The reason may be due to mixed signals coming out of Washington.
US Global AIDS Coordinator, Randall Tobias, felt the heat from activists who attended the XV International AIDS Conference. The protesters demanded generic drugs for people with HIV and condoms for all. They were also opposing the US Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief initiated by Bush, which favours the so-called ‘ABC approach’ – Abstain, Be faithful, or Use Condoms -- for safer sex. July 2004.
The World Health Organization launched last year an ambitious initiative to provide generic HIV/AIDS treatment to three million people from developing countries by the end of 2005. The US is undermining this plan conditioning its funding to the money being given to US patent-based pharmaceutical manufacturers. The US Administration has also convened a conference in Botswana on March 29 2004 that questioned the WHO's approval of generics process.
Africa and AIDS activists say the Bush Administration’s pledge to expedite its approval process for low-cost, generic anti-retroviral drugs by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will really slow delivery of drugs to those suffering while undermining the authority of the United Nations and World Health Organisation. May 2004.
The Clinton Foundation announced that it had secured price reductions with major generic producers. Activists state that trade policies being sought by the Bush White House may prohibit access in some countries and regions to the low cost generics available through the Clinton initiative, and to generic versions of newer medicines.
Where international organisations stand on the issue
This Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS adopted by the UN (Global Crisis- Global Action) states that "access to medication in the context of pandemics such as HIV/AIDS is one of the fundamental elements to achieve progressively the full realization of the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health".
According to this press release, the UN and major TNC committed to improve access for developing countries to "to better health care, HIV medicines and HIV-related medicines, as part of further action to combat AIDS, including prevention, education and research". An important feature of this agreemt implies the lowering of the medicine's prices.
For at least 10 years grassroots women, particularly in Africa, have struggled to get the world to understand AIDS as a development issue – which is how they experience it every day – to have their lived realities inform global policy on AIDS, and to get their contributions to fighting AIDS in their communities recognized local to global. September 2008.
Participants at the third Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights, held 4-7 February 2008 in Nigeria, affirmed that Sexual Rights are an integral and inalienable part of basic Human Rights. This requires that African states be accountable to their citizens for their sexual health and rights. (PDF). February 2008.
Present research has revealed some startling trends in Multilateral Development Bank (MDB) funding for reproductive health and HIV/AIDS and the quality of their investments. The largest funder for both reproductive health and HIV/AIDS —the World Bank— is diminishing its funding. This is occurring simultaneously when conservative political appointees are trying to weaken World Bank commitments and investments in reproductive health. September 2007.
This WHO report shows how an offer of the Indian drug company Cipla to sell government cheaper AIDS medicines forced major TNC companies to lower its prices, and turned the focus from country-by-country negotiations to across-the-board price reductions aimed at the poorest countries. (pdf format)
It has long been recognized that gaining the upper hand against AIDS epidemics around the world will require rapid and sustained expansion in HIV prevention.In fact, the goal must be to ensure that countries everywhere come as close as possible to achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and impact mitigation. December 2005.
From 3-6 August the South Africa AIDS Conference 2003 took place in Durban. In a prior meeting, UN Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa, Stephen Lewis, stated that the treatment issue is crucial in countering the pandemic. He invoked several UN international instruments and related successful experiences, in which generics played an important role.
According to this report, the draft negotiating text of the FTAA contains proposals that exceeds TRIPS and that threatens any attempt to producing generic HIV/AIDS drugs by the developing countries involved.
The Brazilian government announced that it would break the patents on several medications to prevent the financial collapse of its widely praised public health programme that provides antiretroviral drugs free of charge to people living with HIV/AIDS. December 2004.
Speaking at the XV international AIDS conference in Bangkok a Health NOW! spokesperson argued that millions of lives could be saved if developing world nations were not forced to sign unfair trade agreements by developed countries. Multilateral as well as bilateral free trade pacts he said were devastating the lives of the poor, contributing to the spread of HIV/AIDS and compounding the devastation caused by the pandemic. Health NOW! is a global alliance of activist groups fighting the patenting of life-saving medicine by drug multinationals. July 2004.
The Aids Law Project and Treatment Action Campaign are concerned that the US/Southern African Customs Union (SACU) Free Trade Agreement negotiations have the potential to result in binding commitments on SACU member states that undermine access to health care services, the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS and the ability of such states to comply with their domestic, regional and international human rights obligations.
What if policies or laws, although well intentioned in principle, do not work in practice? This is exactly what is happening in the international response to HIV, where a crisis is developing which is increasingly eroding the rights of women. August 2008.
As some of the world's wealthiest donors gather to replenish their contributions to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM), and to reaffirm their commitment to a comprehensive response to the AIDS pandemic, the Women Won't Wait campaign calls for action, not just more words. September 2007.
This statement was issued by a number of women's groups in Africa at the African Women's Regional Consultation on Women's Rights and HIV/AIDS in Africa held in Johannesburg, South Africa, April 6-7, 2006.
This compact outlines priority actions for making global HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care strategies work for women. Developed by a group of women advocates for use in 2006 negotiations on HIV/AIDS and beyond. Also available in French, Portuguese, and Spanish. May 2006.
UNIFEM, in collaboration with UNAIDS, has developed this gender and HIV/AIDS web portal to provide up-to-date information on the gender dimensions of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The site aims to promote understanding, knowledge sharing, and action on HIV/AIDS as a gender and human rights issue.
Pharmaceutical companies attempted to block a law intended to make medicines more affordable. In April 2001, yielding to public pressure, solid legal argumentation and government resolve, the companies announced they were unconditionally dropping the lawsuit.
India’s drive to produce cheap generic drugs for its five million people living with HIV/AIDS has hit a glitch: energetic economic reforms in the 1990s have left the country with one of the lowest pubic health outlays in the world and a rapidly privatising health delivery system that ignores the poor. It’s a challenge for India’s new centre-left government. August 2004.
Indian medical experts see the hand of powerful Western drug manufacturers in the World Health Organisation's withdrawals of its recommendations, this month and earlier in May, for some of India's cheap and popular combination drugs against HIV/AIDS using generic 'copycats.'
In the mid-1990s, the Brazilian Ministry of Health (MoH) adopted a policy of universal free access to antiretroviral (ARV) drugs for people with HIV. 113,000 patients now receive ARVs through the public health system.
The US complained to the WTO about a provision of Brazilian patent law that allows generic manufacturing of pharmaceutical products, including those aimed at combatting HIV/AIDS. They argued that this measure is designed to force international companies to make products in Brazil and thus violates WTO rules. In June 2001 they decided to drop the complaint.
Brazil became the first country to take a public stand against the Bush administration's massive Aids programme which is seen by many as seeking increasingly to press its anti-abortion, pro-abstinence sexual agenda on poorer countries. Campaigners applauded Brazil's rejection of $40m for its Aids programmes because it refuses to agree to a declaration condemning prostitution. May 2005.
The UN Human Rights Committee will review Uganda’s first report on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The NGO 3D has submitted a briefing to the Human Rights Committee on the impact of trade-related intellectual property rights on access to HIV/AIDS medicines and the fulfilment of civil and political rights (doc format).