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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Cut the bull, cut the red tape”

    Shurid Sencolumnist
    Shurid Sen
    columnist

    Last Friday, people around the world gathered to remember past and present victims of AIDS through World AIDS Day. They also gathered to help shed light on the most pressing issue of our generation – the largest health crisis in recorded history. Today, there are approximately 40 million people afflicted with the disease, three-quarters of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa and India. Another 3 million people will have died this year alone from the epidemic.

    As the Arizona Daily Wildcat reported Monday, according to former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona, “”The greatest correlate for health status is socioeconomic status.”” This is true both domestically and globally, as the most poverty-stricken people and countries face a disproportionately uphill battle.

    Recognizing this fact, President Clinton spent the weekend in India promoting HIV treatments aimed at fighting the disease with low-cost Indian-manufactured generic drugs. But even as Clinton attempts to highlight new successes in the battle against the pandemic, there are obvious problems with how AIDS is being handled globally. Namely, international trade rules and regulations stemming from the World Trade Organization are not serving the interests of the dying poor in need of existing treatments; rather, they’re being used to protect the intellectual property rights of pharmaceutical giants.

    In 2001, the WTO approved a measure that would make it possible for developing and poor countries to declare a health emergency, which enabled them to manufacture generic versions of patented drugs without approval of pharmaceutical companies.

    As a result, India now produces 67 percent of the world’s generic drugs according to Oxfam International, a nonprofit anti-poverty organization. The nation has been able to produce AIDS drugs for about one-tenth of the original price. India’s production, along with reduced prices from drug companies, has helped to change the medication realities of AIDS.

    But a series of events has conspired to bring a regression in the vast headway that seemed to have been made. First, the mutating nature of the HIV/AIDS virus has rendered many of the drugs produced generically ineffective, as the disease has adapted around treatments at an alarming rate.

    The second development should have been more controllable. In 2005, India and many other countries were forced to change their drug manufacturing procedures to come into line with the previously established WTO regulations. Under heavy pressure from the WTO, U.S. and European Union, generic manufacturing countries have been stopped from manufacturing drugs developed since 2005.

    As a result, the costs of treating and dealing with the ever-growing epidemic is rising rapidly again, as increasingly ineffective drugs must be replaced by newer drugs that are unavailable in generic forms.

    It is not fair to say that the U.S. is not doing anything in the fight against AIDS; President Bush signed the largest aid package ever against the disease with the Global AIDS Initiative. The U.S. is still the largest supporter of research against the disease, as well as the largest supporter of United Nations’ efforts.

    But the obligation here is clear: Make treatment and help readily available without impediment against a disease that is ruining the lives of millions needlessly because they are born into abject poverty, without education and often with parents who have already succumbed to the disease.

    Intellectual property and patents are all well and good to defend; it’s just a battle more suited to computer technology or Edison’s light bulb, not the sphere of health care. Health, which inevitably is life, should not be a commodity that is bought and sold by those with the means to afford it. If the means are there to fight for and save lives, why wouldn’t we utilize them to the best of our ability? To do otherwise would be negligent at best and sickeningly greedy at worst.

    Red tape around AIDS drugs should not hinder the deliverance of the promise of better lives solely because pharmaceutical companies want to turn an extra buck on the less fortunate of the birth lottery.

    Shurid Sen is a political science senior who will miss bleeding his heart onto the pages of the Arizona Daily Wildcat. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu

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