Experts Testify to U.N. Special Rapporteur, Webcast + Release

Trade and Health Experts to U.N. Special Rapporteur on Health: U.S. Trade Policies on Access to Medicines Damage Access to Health 

Contact:  Matthew Kavanagh, 202-486-288

For Immediate Release

Washington, DC:  At a consultation with UN Special Rapporteur on Health, Anand Grover, health advocates gave testimony today relating to their complaint filed with the UN about U.S. trade policies continued from the Bush administration that violate the right to health.The webcast for the event is now available.

The groups criticized the U.S.'s policy of placing countries that produce generic medications on a "watch list" which threatens trade sanctions.  Generically produced medications account for 80% of the world's HIV medications.  The Obama administration promised to support the right of countries to produce lifesaving medications, but the complaint contends that they have continued to place countries like India on a list generated by the U.S. Trade Representative. 

For many countries, generics are the only affordable option to ensure countrywide access to the medications. Nompumelelo Margaret Mantangana, from South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign and a nurse at Kayalisha Ubuntu Clinic testified, "We are facing a crisis.  If a patient fails the first two lines of treatment, there is nothing else to offer them.  I have 8 patients right now who are failing both 1st and 2nd line therapy.  They are facing a death sentence.  I know it and they know it. Yet there is no generic version for these patented drugs that could save their lives and my country cannot afford to pay full price."

U.S. Government representatives were invited to the consultation with the UN Special Rappateur, but did not attend.   The allegation letter filed with the UN charges that the US government's Special 301 Program policy supports pharmaceutical interests and keeps lifesaving medications out of the hands of people in poor countries who need them.  "The Special 301 program has been a prime means through which the U.S. has promoted the international exportation of US-style patent and other intellectual property laws to developing countries. And pharmaceuticals has always been a key focus."  said Professor Sean Flynn, Professor of Law, American University Washington College of Law.  According to Emi McLean, Doctors Without Borders/MSF, "There has been a lot of discussion and feigned transparency in the 301 process and yet no substantive change in policy... We see that there is a striking conflict between U.S. policy and global health policy."

Advocates highlighted the case of Thailand.  Thailand complied with national and international legal frameworks in translating the compulsory licensing policy into practice. However, Thailand's actions in this regard were heavily opposed by the U.S. government and harsh retaliation was returned by the U.S. pharmaceutical industry. The USTR downgraded Thailand to its "Special 301" Report Priority Watch List.  In the same month, a U.S.-based drug company, the patent owner of AIDS drug Kaletra, decided to withdraw the registrations of their seven new drugs in Thailand, including medicines for treatment of AIDS, hypertension and kidney disease.  

"Such actions reflect that the USTR does not take human rights and public health needs into account and has turned its back on the TRIPS Agreement and Doha Declaration on TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, which recognize public health needs before trade benefits," said Kannikar Kijtiwatchakul of the Health Consumer Protection Program, Chulalongkorn University in Thailand.

Brazilian legal experts also testified that not only is the 301 Watch List a source of political pressure, it has been cited in a recent legal decision by a Brazilian court not to order a compulsory license-a legal option under the WTO for countries to allow generic production on patented medicines.

Health GAP's Director of US Advocacy, Matt Kavanagh said, "the Obama administration needs to stop this Bush era policy and support access to affordable lifesaving medications so that we can keep our promise to universal access."


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