International patent laws and US-negotiated trade agreements are impeding access to life-saving HIV medicines (antiretroviral therapy, ART), say researchers in a policy paper in PLoS Medicine.
"Multinational pharmaceutical companies, World Trade Organization members, US and European Union trade representatives, and health-care activists have clashed over provision of ART to people living with AIDS in developing countries," say Michael Westerhaus (Brigham and Women's Hospital) and Arachu Castro (Harvard Medical School).
Activists contend that current intellectual property law impedes the purchase of ART in resource-poor settings and allows pharmaceutical companies to monopolize the markets of developing nations. "As a result,' say the authors, "the cost of these treatments far exceeds personal and national budgets, and the development of more affordable generic alternatives is proscribed. "
In addition, they say, "the US has embarked on an aggressive campaign to liberalize trade through bilateral, regional, and multilateral trade agreements and this campaign also has an impact on access to ART. These agreements have conditioned liberalized trade upon the expansion of intellectual property law for multinational pharmaceutical companies holding patents for antiretrovirals among other essential medicines."
The agreements, say Westerhaus and Castro, extend the protection of patents beyond the current 20-year period, freeze generic manufacturing of ART, protect the manufacturers' drug testing data for five years (a practice known as data exclusivity), and limit options for poor countries to manufacture their own ART during a public health emergency.
Citation: Westerhaus M, Castro A (2006) How do intellectual property law and international trade agreements affect access to antiretroviral therapy? PLoS Med 3(8): e332.