AIDS activists in Central America are urging the U.S. Congress to vote against the Central American Free Trade Agreement because patent protection rules included in the agreement could make it difficult for poor nations to purchase low-cost, generic anti-HIV medications, VOA News reports. CAFTA, similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, would eliminate tariffs and other barriers on the trade of goods, agricultural services, investments, and intellectual property rights between the United States and Central American nations.
But AIDS activists say the agreement could prevent Central American governments from issuing licenses to make or buy generic versions of antiretroviral medications, forcing government and private HIV treatment programs to purchase name-brand anti-HIV drugs. For example, the annual cost of treating an HIV-positive person in Guatemala would increase from about $400 to $10,000 if only name-brand drugs could be manufactured or purchased, according to the activists. Costa Rican AIDS activist Guillermo Murillo says his country's burgeoning antiretroviral treatment program may grind to a halt if generic medications aren't available.
CAFTA also would require generic-drug makers to conduct their own clinical trials and not use the data from the name-brand trials, which could result in delays of five years or more in getting anti-HIV drugs to ill people who desperately need them, the activists say.
The U.S. Senate held its first debate on CAFTA on Wednesday. Senate leaders have not set a target date for the entire body to vote on the measure.