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Bush signs trade
agreement that may hurt HIV-positive people

Bush signs trade
agreement that may hurt HIV-positive people

President Bush on Tuesday signed into law the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which aims to reduce trade barriers between the United States and six Central American countries but which AIDS activists say could make anti-HIV drugs too expensive for many poor HIV-positive Central Americans.

"This is more than a trade bill," Bush said during a signing ceremony at the White House. He says the measure will help protect the Central American countries against "forces that oppose democracy, seek to limit economic freedom, and want to drive a wedge between the United States and the rest of the Americas." The agreement will include the United States and Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic.

But health care advocates and AIDS activists say the agreement will 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. This could severely limit access to anti-HIV treatment, activists say, noting that in Guatemala, for example, the annual cost of antiretroviral therapy could rise from about $400 to $10,000 if only brand-name drugs could be manufactured or purchased.

"For patients currently on treatment in Central America, CAFTA means a 15-fold increase in the cost of their medications," AIDS Healthcare Foundation president Michael Weinstein said in a press release.

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.

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