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International News

Africa Bloc Wants to Produce Cheap AIDS Drugs

November 18, 2002

Africa's major free trade bloc has applied to the World Trade Organization for the right to manufacture cheap AIDS drugs, saying the disease is the biggest threat to regional economic development. "We have applied for licensing from the WTO to allow us to manufacture AIDS drugs, and we would like to see this happening by December," Erastus Mwencha, secretary general of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), said Friday. "We want the WTO to treat COMESA as one region so that drugs manufactured in one country can be sold in all member states without problems," Mwencha said.

COMESA's request came as two dozen world trade ministers, meeting in Sydney, discussed a plan before the WTO that would allow poor countries to manufacture generic copies of drugs that are protected by intellectual property rights in developed countries.

Mwencha said COMESA, made up of 20 countries from Egypt to Madagascar, had determined that AIDS is strangling trade and development across Africa because it is killing the continent's most qualified and economically active people. A domestic manufacturing license system would avoid what Mwencha described as overpriced licensing deals demanded by current AIDS drugs manufacturers. COMESA countries are spending a lot to import antiretroviral drugs, and regional trade will suffer if HIV's spread is not brought under control, he said. COMESA has a $170 billion gross domestic product and a population of 380 million.

Analysts and AIDS activists charge the United States and the international pharmaceutical industry with using the WTO's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement to attack developing countries trying to develop their own AIDS drugs. TRIPS has worsened health problems for most developing countries by raising drug prices and reducing access for poor people, analysts say. "AIDS is stretching resources for development, and the situation is so bad that some countries may experience negative [economic] growth," Mwencha said.

Back to other CDC news for November 18, 2002

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Adapted from:
11.18.02; Shapi Shacinda

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
More on Generic/Discount HIV Drug Access in the Developing World