New York Times: France Prods U

 

 

New York Times: France Prods U.N. To Help the Poor Get

AIDS Drugs

 

January 16, 2000

 

Issue in Depth

The AIDS Epidemic

 

 

          By BARBARA CROSSETTE

 

               NITED NATIONS, Jan. 14 -- As more international attention

               focuses on an AIDS epidemic spreading out of control, France is

          prodding the United Nations to find ways to make cheaper drugs

          available to poor countries, where treatment is beyond the means of most

          people who need it.

 

          The Clinton administration also supports the cause championed by

          France. But officials and AIDS experts contend that drug companies

          have been resistant to pleas that they alter their pricing policies or donate

          medicines to poor countries.

 

          Alain Dejammet, France's representative at the United Nations,

          proposed during an all-day Security Council meeting on the AIDS crisis

          in Africa last Monday that a three-way conference be convened to bring

          together rich nations, their pharmaceutical companies and representatives

          of poorer countries in desperate need of affordable medicines.

 

          Mr. Dejammet said the interests of pharmaceutical companies, which fear

          the erosion of their patents on drugs developed at enormous costs in

          research and testing, would have to be taken into account.

 

          He said that for this reason, France was proposing that the companies

          and countries involved in both buying and selling drugs get together to

          discuss how to avoid more confrontations over intellectual property

          rights.

 

          He said in an interview Thursday that given the huge numbers of AIDS

          cases in the developing world, treatment should not be forgotten in the

          rush to support prevention efforts -- many of them more educational than

          medical -- and the development of an AIDS vaccine. The 21 countries

          with the world's highest H.I.V. infection rates are all in Africa, and these

          nations are also among the world's poorest.

 

          Vice President Al Gore, speaking at the same council session on

          Monday, also raised the question of how to make medicines more readily

          available, an issue President Clinton had addressed at the contentious

          World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in December.

 

          "We are also committed to helping poor countries gain access to

          affordable medicines, including those for H.I.V./AIDS," Mr. Gore told

          the Security Council. "Last month, the president announced a new

          approach to ensure that we take public health crises into account when

          applying U.S. trade policy. We will cooperate with our trading partners

          to assure that U.S. trade policies do not hinder the efforts to respond to

          health crises."

 

          Mr. Gore said the United States would add $150 million to next year's

          budget for fighting AIDS. A third of that amount would go to the Global

          Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations, which sponsors medical

          research and works on the distribution of drugs to the third world. In

          total, the Clinton administration is seeking to make $325 million available

          for the American contribution to the worldwide campaign against AIDS.

 

          Mr. Gore learned last year how complicated efforts to aid poorer nations

          can be when negotiations with pharmaceutical companies are involved.

          He drew protesters to his campaign rallies after he presented the position

          of American drug companies in talks with South Africa.

 

          The talks concerned a 1997 South African law that allowed imports of

          cheaper, but unlicensed, copies of American drugs for AIDS and opened

          the way for South African manufacturers to produce generic versions of

          their own.

 

          Forty pharmaceutical companies responded by first lobbying the South

          Africans and then filing a lawsuit. The suit was suspended in September

          when South Africa said that the law would be re-examined.