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AIDS advocates
say trade agreement may hurt HIV-positive people

AIDS advocates
say trade agreement may hurt HIV-positive people

The House on Wednesday narrowly approved the Central American Free Trade Agreement, voting 217-215 to reduce trade barriers between the United States and six Central American nations to stimulate economic growth in the region. But health care advocates and AIDS activists say the plan, which would make it difficult for the Central American nations to break patents on U.S.-made anti-HIV drugs and manufacture or purchase cheaper generic equivalents, could end up hurting thousands of low-income HIV-positive people.

CAFTA also would require generic-drug makers to redo clinical trials to obtain marketing approval and force generic-drug companies to hold off on using clinical trial results for copies of brand-name drugs for at least five years, which AIDS activists say essentially creates patent-like protections where none existed before.

"For patients currently on treatment in Central America, CAFTA means a 15-fold increase in the cost of their medications, making the House's action today not only a tragedy for Central American HIV patients but a dangerous precedent that compromises World Trade Organization principles," AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein said in a press release. Roman Macaya, executive director of the National Chamber of Generic Products of Costa Rica, said CAFTA would extend the monopolies of brand-name drugmakers beyond even the limits already imposed by the World Trade Organization, Inter Press Service reports. "CAFTA's new rules will cost human lives," he told the wire service.

The Senate passed CAFTA in June. President Bush supports the proposal and plans to sign the bill into law.

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