WTO may miss deadline for agreement on anti-HIV drug access

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com December 14 2002 1:00 AM ET

World Trade Organization members are likely to miss a self-imposed December 31 deadline to develop a plan that would allow developing nations access to generic versions of patented drugs to treat a variety of serious ailments, including HIV, Reuters Health reports. The attempt to reach a consensus on how to amend international patent laws to allow poor nations to manufacture or import cheap, generic versions of patented medications has been hampered by calls from the United States, the European Union, and Switzerland. These Western nations--all home to large pharmaceutical companies--are demanding that the WTO establish a set of criteria that must be met before a country is permitted access to the generic drugs. Representatives of developing nations, particularly those in the heart of the global AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa, are pushing for wider access.
The issue has been under debate since November 2001, when a WTO working group approved a declaration that states that developing countries can override patent protections to buy or manufacture generic medications during public health emergencies, but WTO members have been unable to agree on the exact terms of the declaration.
WTO representatives from poor nations are discouraged by the slow pace of the ongoing negotiations but appear to be willing to wait for an agreement that meets with their approval rather than rush into a less comprehensive plan. "If we cannot reach a good agreement, we may be better off sticking with the situation as it is," said an envoy from Latin America. But some AIDS activists are losing patience. The Paris chapter of ACT UP issued a press release criticizing both the United States and the European Union for "intolerable" demands for "unnecessary control" on poor nations. It further stated, "The United States remains inflexible and insists on restricting the use of generics. Such a position is a blatant step backwards from U.S. commitments [made] one year ago."