Aids conference: 'Virus' of free trade fatal for those with HIV/AIDS
AFRICA: VIRUS OF FREE TRADE FATAL FOR THOSE WITH HIV/AIDS' PRESS RELEASE International AIDS conference- Bangkok 12th July 2004 People’s Health Movement & Health-NOW ! Campaign For media enquiries: Call Thailand: 04701 0714 or 050 181 581 or 095 134 924 (Call +66 4701 0714 from abroad) Call for anti-war, anti-free trade movements ‘Virus of ‘free trade’ fatal for those with HIV/AIDS’ Bangkok (Thailand), 12th July 2004: The rapidly spreading virus of free trade has proved as fatal to those living with HIV/AIDS as the disease itself according to Health NOW!, a global alliance of activist groups fighting the patenting of life-saving medicine by drug multinationals. Speaking at the XV international AIDS conference in Bangkok a Health NOW! spokesperson argued that millions of lives could be saved if developing world nations were not forced to sign unfair trade agreements by developed countries. Multilateral as well as bilateral free trade pacts he said were devastating the lives of the poor, contributing to the spread of HIV/AIDS and compounding the devastation caused by the pandemic. “Free trade demagogues are also preventing patients in developing countries from accessing AIDS medication, which has been kept out of their reach because of patent protection mandated by agreements under the auspices of the World Trade Organization (WTO)” says the People’s Charter on HIV/ AIDS an initiative of the People’s Health Movement. People’s Health Movement, a grassroot movement, has presence in early 100 countries. The People’s Charter on HIV/ AIDS, that will be unveiled during the AIDS conference, calls for people-based actions to combat HIV / AIDS. “Patents are providing drug manufacturers from North virtual monopolies,” said Dr. Prem John, a campaigner from India, “while prohibiting poor countries from supplying their AIDS patients with lifesaving medicines.” According to the World Health Organization (WHO) there are 6 million people in poor countries who need antiretroviral treatment yet less than 5% of them have access to these drugs. A health advocate from Philippines identified TRIPS, an agreement that regulates intellectual property rights under the WTO regime, as the main culprit. “TRIPS will have to be fully implemented in most poor countries by 2005,” said Dr. Delen De La Paz of the Health- NOW campaign. “Stringent patent protection will only ensure more profits for the drug companies. We need to stop it” she said. She added that currently patent provisions that apply to medicines are integrated in just about any trade agreement: “Earlier this year, the United States has clinched the Central American Free Trade Agreement that allows even stiffer patent protection than the WTO and it is about to start negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) with Thailand.” Under this agreement, Thailand will be disallowed to produce cheap AIDS drugs in order to give the big pharmaceutical companies free rein. Even Cambodia, Burma and Laos will be affected as they are now buying cheap AIDS drugs from Thailand. “Public health should be give priority over company wealth,” said a campaigner from India. “Common sense dictates that trade agreements have no business interfering with people’s health. That is why we say that WTO and FTAs should be kicked out of all matters pertaining to people’s health” he said. Health NOW! campaign looks at the issues comprehensively. “Free trade agreements are an example of economic aggression and basically no different from the US-led wars on Afghanistan and Iraq.” The campaign denounces economic as well as military aggression and its effects on people’s health. “Both are two branches on the same tree,” a campaign spokesperson remarked. “It’s about profit from oil, medicines or whatever, at the expense of people’s very lives. For us it is but logical to oppose the occupation of Iraq and this kind of free trade agreements alike. The point is that people have to fight for the people’s right to health.” Stop the occupation of Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan! WTO out of health! Health care, not warfare!