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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

US trade policies impact global drug pricing

Thousands of people marched on the White House and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative on Tuesday to protest a new trade agreement that public health experts warn would cut off access to life-saving medications for AIDS patients.

Activists in Washington this week are demanding a handful of policy changes related to HIV/AIDS, including immediate treatment for the thousands of low-income Americans currently on waiting lists for HIV drugs, the full implementation of Obama's domestic health care reform bill, increased global AIDS relief funding and an end to free trade agreements that inflate the prices of drugs around the world by granting long-term monopolies to pharmaceutical companies.

Hundreds of public health organizations have backed the agenda, which is posted online at Many were present at the protests, including representatives of the American Medical Student Association.

Nevertheless, President Obama's administration has opposed many of policy changes, cutting global AIDS funding under the popular PEPFAR program, while pursuing trade policies that economists say increase the prices of AIDS medications, cancer drugs and other life-saving medications both at home and abroad.

Trade protesters were especially prominent at the afternoon's event. Several held banners objecting to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a major trade deal that the Obama administration has been negotiating with 10 Pacific nations for the past three years. According to leaked drafts of the talks, American negotiators are pursuing a host of intellectual property terms that would lengthen drug company monopolies on medications, including drugs introduced in Vietnam, a developing nation that receives PEPFAR funding from the U.S. These policies, in turn, put upward pressure on drug prices all over the world. The negotiating texts for the trade pact are kept secret from the public, but more than 600 corporate advisers, including representatives of drug companies, can access them through positions on official advisory boards.

The protests are particularly pointed for the Obama administration for taking place in Washington, where the president is more popular than in any state in the nation. Yet the district features a higher AIDS/HIV rate than any other area of the country, making AIDS policy issues a matter of deep significance to the city's residents. At 3.2 percent, the HIV infection rate in D.C. is more than triple the rate the World Health Organization uses to identify epidemics, and is higher than the rate in many developing nations.

2. President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief:

Source: Reporting for the PRN News: Bill Valenti, MD