Obama Trade Agreement (TPP) Will Hamper Global AIDS Fight

In Chile, Global, Mexico, Peru, Vietnam by AHF

Trans Pacific Partnership’s (TPP) new stringent patent protections will eviscerate generic drug industry—a mainstay of lifesaving international AIDS treatment program around the world—including wreaking havoc with US’ own President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Senate to vote Tuesday on TPP; Political kowtowing to drug industry signals death knell for millions in need of AIDS treatment.

WASHINGTON (May 11, 2015) As the United States Senate prepares to vote Tuesday on President Obama’s signature trade agreement known as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) today called on Senators on both sides of the aisle to reject the measure which AHF believes will eviscerate the generic drug industry and in the process cripple the global AIDS fight—including the US’ own President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

TPP is a free trade agreement that has been in negotiation since as far back as 2005 by the following countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Vietnam. Countries see TPP as advantageous because if signed, it will eliminate all tariffs between members by 2015, among other trade benefits.

However, an earlier leaked draft of the TPP chapter on Intellectual Property rights suggests that patent protections will be strengthened far beyond what is required by the World Trade Organization (WTO) – restricting access to generic medicines in country signatories. The United States Trade Representative (USTR) and the Obama Administration are the main drivers of the TPP.

Provisions of TPP that Will Negatively Affect Drug Access:

  • TPP will water down language contained in TRIPS (The agreement known as Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, the primary international set of rules governing patents, including on medicines), which currently allows countries to circumvent drug patents in case of public health emergencies.
  • Evergreening – TPP will allow patenting of existing compounds with minor changes, even if there is no significant clinical benefit. (Eg: Medicine changed from a pill to a syrup form would be eligible for a brand new patent).
  • TPP will eliminate pre-patent opposition. Currently under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, a third party, such as an advocacy group, can challenge the granting of a patent during the patent application stage.

“Although India is not a party to the TPP, this agreement is an attempt by the US to indirectly pressure India, the world’s largest manufacturer of low-cost generic drugs, to stop denying and/or circumventing patents for brand name drugs—a move that will cripple India as a mainstay provider of lifesaving AIDS treatments to international programs around the world,” said Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “While in Vietnam, PEPFAR currently pays for up to eighty percent of HIV/AIDS treatment in that country–most of it consisting of generic formulations. If Vietnam signs the TPP, treatment coverage could plummet as a result of higher treatment costs and the need to only use brand name drugs.”

PEPFAR was the result of President Bush’s groundbreaking 2003 State of the Union pledge to bring two million HIV positive Africans and others into treatment and prevent seven million new HIV infections via a five-year, $15 billion US-funded program. Today, its FY 2015 budget is $6.4 billion USD and the program currently claims to support antiretroviral treatment for 7.7 million people worldwide.

On Sunday, April 26th, Brian McFadden, a New York Times political cartoonist, focused his weekly ‘The Strip’ comic published in the Review Section of the paper on TPP. In the comic, titled, ‘Trans Pacific Speculation—a Look Inside the Trans-Pacific Partnership,’ one panel focused on TPP’s negative impact on drug pricing and access, noting, “It (TPP) expands the length and scope of pharmaceutical companies’ patents, making placebos the only drugs accessible to the poor.” The accompanying image was a pill bottle with a label reading, “Life© saving™ Drugs ® -Patented for Profit Protection.”

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