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"No Matter Who's President, AIDS Is Still a Worldwide Crisis"

Summer 1999

The Clinton administration is caught in the cross fire between pharmaceutical firms protecting their patents and AIDS activists who want to get cheap, generic drugs to sick South Africans.

By law, the World Trade Organization allows for "compulsory licensing" to countries experiencing a health crisis allowing for foreign drug manufacturers to produce generic versions of patented drugs known to be effective in the treatment of the health crisis.

South Africa's 1997 law granted their government unspecified power to obtain cheaper AIDS drugs for the country where more than 3 million people are HIV positive and 2.5 million children are expected to be orphaned because of the virus over the next 10 years.

About 40 pharmaceutical companies worldwide are challenging the law in South African courts, fearing it may be used in a way that violates patent rights.


"American drug companies want some of the poorest people in the world to pay U.S. market prices for drugs"

Currently in the US Congress there is a bill called the African Growth and Opportunity Act. (AGOA) sponsored by the Clinton Administration and the American Pharmaceutical Association, and publicly supported by Al Gore (opponents of the bill say it will prevent Africans with AIDS from getting medications to help prolong their lives).

Gore, the favorite for the 2000 Democratic presidential nomination, has come under fire from AIDS groups that accuse him of acting on behalf of the pharmaceutical firms demanding more patent protection for their drugs in South Africa.

Drug industry lobbyists asked the Clinton administration to impose trade sanctions on South Africa for passing the 1997 law. U.S. Officials instead put South Africa on a trade "watch list" that signals objections.

Being Alive Newsletter reports: "Much thought has been given as to why the US, a member of the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization and a pioneer in the development of international AIDS policy, would take such a drastic and seemingly harmful action. There have been rumors that the actions are a result of the strong financial and political ties between Al Gore and the US pharmaceutical industry. (It is reported that Al Gore has received over a million dollars from pharmaceutical companies for his presidential campaign). The drug companies are reported to fear that if the true cost of production for anti-retroviral therapies were disclosed, that severe community criticism and outrage would ensue. In fact, (AIDS activist David Scondras recently reported '...AZT in bulk can be purchased for 42 cents for a 300 mg capsule from the worldwide suppliers; it's price reflects not only profits to the manufacturer but also to the middle-man bulk buyer. The same drug retails at my local pharmacy for $5.82 per pill. This ridiculous price bears no relation to the cost of production.)

An alternative bill, Jesse Jackson, Jr. is sponsoring in the House of Representatives called the Human Rights, Opportunity , Partnership and Empowerment (HOPE) for Africa Act offers real, if limited, assistance to poor countries being annihilated by the AIDS pandemic."

The Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force, takes a strong position: "Over the short and long-term, we need a conceptual shift among world policy makers and its citizens -- a shift that recognizes the inherent inhumanity of an economic system that thrives on the social and economic exploitation of all human beings -- but particularly people who are poor and people of color. We must be vigilant, courageous, and precise in demanding that public and private safety, and welfare as human rights rather than entitlements for the privileged few.

Today, we are challenging Vice President Gore in his role as US Chair of the Bi-national Commission on South Africa, to make a public commitment to end his harassment of the proposed trade sanctions against South Africa for exercising its right to manufacture and import generic drugs intended to prolong and save the lives of its more than 3 million HIV positive citizens, most of whom are poor and people of color, many of whom are pregnant women...."

Gore Supporters say that the Vice President supports efforts to provide South Africa with AIDS drugs at reduced prices and he is working to create a framework to make that happen. Others are afraid that the activist groups may turn voters away from a person who they think would be a "good" candidate for the presidency.

Hundreds of protesters from ACT UP Philadelphia showed up at Gores' evening fund-raiser, contending trade policies he supports are making it difficult to get affordable AIDS drugs to people who need them in South Africa. AIDS activists said they would continue disrupting his events until the United States drops official trade complaints against South Africa over the AIDS medicines issue. ACT UP promised to keep protesting and said it would challenge other presidential candidates on the issue too. (To get involved on this level call ACT UP Philly @ 215.731.1844) ACT UP urges you to call Congress toll free at 1.888.449.3511 and persuade your representative to vote "NO" on the AGOA bill.

South Africa is desperate to stop the epidemic in their country which now afflicts 3 million of its 43 million citizens.

Being Alive asks their readers and we are asking ours: "Let your US Representative know that you oppose the AGOA Clinton Administration sponsored bill and ask her/him to support the Jesse Jackson, HOPE for Africa Act. Newsletter readers have an opportunity to make your voices heard. You can contact your local member of Congress by calling her/his office, or the Congressional switchboard at 202.224.3121. If you do not know who your congressional representative is, give the switchboard operator your address or zip code and they can connect you. Ask your Representative to support the HOPE for Africa Act and oppose the African growth and Opportunity Act.

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This article was provided by Women Alive. It is a part of the publication Women Alive Newsletter.
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