Experts meet on advancing access to HIV treatment
New York, 5 September 2013—Experts this week called for new measures to get costly, life-saving HIV drugs to some 16 million people in developing countries who need them, following calls by a high-level Commission to make them more affordable in poor countries.
“While intellectual property protections are intended to provide an incentive for innovation, the evidence shows that excessive protection hinders access to affordable HIV treatment and other essential medicines,” UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark told participants at a meeting convened by UNDP and the UNAIDS Secretariat.
Some 30 experts met here this week to discuss ways to advance 2012 recommendations by the independent Global Commission on HIV and the Law on improving access to treatment. The Commission “noted that while intellectual property protection is supposed to provide an incentive for innovation, experience has shown that the current laws are failing to promote innovation that serves the health needs of the poor,” Helen Clark said.
Participants here included former Commissioners Michael Kirby, J.V.R. Prasada Rao, and Jon Ungphakorn, UN Special Envoys for HIV/AIDS Michel Kazatchkine (Eastern Europe and Central Asia) and Edward Greene (Caribbean), government officials from South Africa, Ecuador, and Nigeria, and key academic and civil society representatives from low-, middle-, and high-income countries.
“Access to affordable, quality-assured pharmaceutical products remains an urgent priority for achieving the MDGs and improving health and development outcomes for poor and marginalized populations,” Helen Clark said, referring to the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
At the end of 2012, 9.7 million people worldwide had accessed antiretroviral (ARV) therapy in resource-limited settings, compared to just 300,000 people 10 years earlier. But the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNAIDS estimate another 16 million people need HIV treatment but lack access to it.
The Global Commission’s landmark report recommended a new intellectual property regime for pharmaceuticals that would meet urgent public health needs while safeguarding the rights of inventors. It said intellectual property protections were “impeding the production and distribution of low-cost generic drugs... current laws are failing to promote innovation that serves the medical needs of the poor.”
“We need solutions to increase access to life-saving HIV treatment and this roadmap clearly outlines how a people-centred approach can help ensure no one is left behind,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé.
The World Trade Organization's (WTO) Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, known as TRIPS, requires countries to abide by high intellectual property standards, including patent criteria that grant pharmaceutical companies long-term monopolies on medicines.
When the TRIPS treaty was signed in 1994, it included important terms that allow poor countries to produce or import cheaper generic medicines, though wealthier countries have pressured them against doing so.
“The real crux of the Commission’s Recommendations was for a new intellectual property regime for pharmaceutical products – it is not enough to tweak the existing system,” former Commissioner J.V.R. Prasada Rao said.
Talks this week focused on strategies, tactics, and timelines to confront the growing need for HIV treatment, including how to make intellectual property laws work better for low-and middle-income countries. Next steps are under discussion.
“We should be encouraged that this meeting comes at a pivotal time when we are discussing the post-2015 development agenda, which presents us with significant opportunities,” former Commissioner Michael Kirby said.
UNDP: Tenu Avafia, UNDP New York:
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UNAIDS: Carlos Passarelli, UNAIDS, Geneva
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