July 10, 2003
On Wednesday in Pretoria, South Africa, President Bush said his administration supports a moratorium on the enforcement of international patent laws for drugs to treat pandemics like AIDS.
AIDS activists in South Africa -- where one in nine people is HIV-positive -- greeted Bush's statement with skepticism, noting that the United States has for years blocked such an agreement. The United States fought a 2001 World Trade Organization proposal on the production of generic AIDS drugs, and a senior administration official said Wednesday that Bush's remarks did not signal a change in the American position.
"The WTO agreement includes other drugs that are not AIDS drugs, such as aspirin and other commercial drugs," the official said. "That's why we oppose it."
With 40 million HIV-positive people in the world -- 30 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa -- Bush said he supports a "common-sense policy" to bring cheap drugs to impoverished parts of the world. Bush said he would work with nations such as South Africa to design a policy that "protects intellectual property rights, and on the other hand, makes life-saving drugs ... more widely available at reasonable costs."
Major pharmaceutical companies have been reluctant to allow generic versions of antiretroviral HIV drugs and have instead offered developing countries dramatic price reductions. While patent-protected drugs' prices have fallen to about $300 a year in some parts of Africa, even that is out of reach for almost all Africans, most of whom live on less than a dollar a day.
"Whatever Bush said today, the US is still blocking the production of these drugs," said Mark Heywood of South Africa's Treatment Action Campaign.