Ignored by the national media, and without a word of protest from the U.S. national AIDS organizations, the Bush administration — behind closed doors — has been secretly sabotaging the ability of the world’s poorest countries to produce or buy cheap, generic AIDS-fighting drugs.
Here’s the background: Back in 2001, after a long fight against Big Pharma’s monopolization of the production of AIDS drugs, a World Trade Organization meeting in Doha, Qatar, agreed that poor countries should have the right to break the multinational drug companies’ patent monopoly on those drugs if they declared a national health emergency due to the AIDS pandemic. The U.S. was one of the 142 countries that signed on to this breakthrough agreement, under which poor countries could make their own AIDS-fighting medications cheaply, or buy generic versions of them from a country that produced them, thus bypassing Big Pharma.
This was a huge victory, won after years of struggle by AIDS and non-governmental public health advocacy organizations from around the world. And the Doha agreement began to save thousands of lives, by getting cheap, life-prolonging AIDS meds into the hands of the HIV-positive in the poorer nations who so desperately needed them but couldn’t afford them.
But the Bush administration is morbidly blackmailing poor countries into giving up their rights to make cheap AIDS meds under that international treaty if they want the benefits of so-called Free Trade Agreements with the U.S. Either the poor countries refuse to knuckle under and scuttle these bi-lateral and regional trade deals with Washington — which are worth billions of dollars — or they accept these deals and raise the price of AIDS meds beyond the reach of the poor.
This unconscionable blackmail has already resulted in many countries giving up their rights to break the Big Pharma AIDS drug monopoly in these secretly-negotiated deals, including six countries in Latin America. And tough negotiations are now under way with a raft of poor countries hard hit by AIDS, from Thailand to five southern African countries, including South Africa and Botswana. If Thailand signs the trade agreement the U.S. has proposed, “Those who require the essential drugs but cannot afford them, they will have to die,” says Dr. Suwit Wibulpolpraset, the Thai Public Health Ministry official who is coordinating his country’s response to the Bush administration’s arm-breaking trade deal that rolls back the Doha agreement. And the same goes for the other countries being beaten with Washington’s big stick.
Bush and his cronies “began this trade blackmail in 2002, after a group of the largest Big Pharma companies — headed by Pfizer CEO Hank McConnell — raised $30 million for the Republicans congressional campaigns that year,” says Jamie Love of the Consumer Project on Technology, the international point man in winning the patent-breaking Doha agreement and an unsung hero in the fight for cheap AIDS meds. “The effect of these deals, Love says, is to force countries to enact “superpatents” that prolong U.S. drug makers’ monopolies and limit the conditions under which their patents can be broken. And the initial organizer and the Bush administration’s enforcer of this odiferous sweetheart deal with Big Pharma was none other than Joshua Bolten — who is now the Bush White House chief of staff.
But, even though millions of lives are at stake in these sordid and lethal trade deals, the major U.S. AIDS organizations — like AIDS Action (which calls itself “the national voice on AIDS”) and the National Association of People With AIDS — have been AWOL from the fight aginst them. And since the AIDS advocacy groups are silent, these malicious, murderous trade deals are being negotiated at economic gun-point by Washington with little notice from the media.
I’m angry at our national AIDS groups for their isolationism, for not leading a huge public outcry against these iniquitous Bush administration trade deals that put Big Pharma’s profits ahead of the lives of poor people with HIV in the developing countries. And because our AIDS orgs are silent on this story, the national media feel they’ve been given permission to ignore it. But Washington should not be allowed to tear up its commitments under the Doha agreement by extorting trade deals that protect Big Pharma from countries too penniless to resist, without any protest from those who pretend to speak for us on AIDS.