You couldn't have been much further from the ravages of AIDS than the lovely hotel perched high on a snowy hillside above Norway's largest lake than we were at the WHO/WTO meeting. At dinner one night a prominent WTO official told me that nothing was better suited than the free market and free trade system to meet "humanity's needs, its hopes, its aspirations." A pharmaceutical consultant darkly warned that price controls were destroying drug company R&D in Europe. The general plan seemed to be to impose a system of differential pricing on the world, with prices secret at all levels, with absolute prohibitions on parallel imports, and with nothing but pro forma protection of countries' rights under the TRIPS agreement. The general philosophy of both the drug companies and the USTR seemed to be that "TRIPS is fine -- as long as you don't use it."
On the bus on the way back to the Oslo airport I was talking with the head of Glaxo's entire African program. "Drop the South African lawsuit," I said. "It's not about AIDS," he protested. "I don't care, drop it anyway!" "We can't," he said, uttering all the usual arguments about how if they let South Africa get away with reforming its drug laws, the entire bottom would drop out of the global pharmaceutical market, and R&D worldwide would come shuddering to a halt.
Throughout this entire process, perhaps 5,000 people received discounted AIDS drugs through the Accelerated Access Initiative. Perhaps 5 million new HIV infections occurred, and perhaps 5 million people died of AIDS. Meanwhile, at a glacial rate, additional countries were signing onto the Accelerated Access Initiative -- Cameroon, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal, Uganda . . .