World AIDS care movement wins concessions

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Cancel the debt! New York protest, June 2001. Photo by Stephen Durham.

Credit goes to the international movement, fighting to win affordable access to HIV medications, for making the biggest dent in the World Trade Organisation’s 2001 agenda. The movement scored three wins.

First, the government of the U.S. was forced to drop its charges against Brazil at the WTO, charges which aimed to prevent production and distribution of cheaper generic HIV drugs. Then a consortium of 39 of the biggest global drug companies also withdrew its case against the South African government. The drug companies’ objective was to shore up their obscene profits by stopping South Africa from importing generic medicines which dramatically increase the life expectancy of people living with HIV. Worldwide protests forced the corporations to back off.

The third concession was won by a rock-solid bloc of third world nations at the WTO meeting in Qatar last November, backed by the growing grassroots anti-capitalist movement. The meeting voted to endorse TRIPS (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights). TRIPS — a global patent regime which will give companies the right to operate as monopolies — comes into force from 2005. But 48 of the world’s poorest countries have until 2016 before the pernicious new system kicks in. The final agreed wording includes a clause which will give countries the right to override drug company patents and use generic products in cases of “national emergency.” This right to protect public health and promote medicines for all is a tool the movement can utilise.  

The movement is effective because it is internationalist, and it is being led by people of colour, gays and lesbians and people living with HIV. It is not afraid to challenge this system which denies life-saving drugs to the majority of the world’s 35 million HIV sufferers so it can maximise profits by selling drugs at at superinflated prices.

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