Denying HIV meds to the poor


Pharmaceutical giants have put profits before lives when it comes to Third World people's access to HIV medications, Andrew Hewett, executive director of Oxfam Australia, said.

"Some of the world's leading pharmaceutical companies have worked to prevent developing countries from reducing the price of high-cost medicines", he said. "In some cases, 'big pharma' has put profits before lives." Hewett and others participated in the 4th International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention, held in Sydney on July 22-25.

The issue of Third World access to medications was well illustrated by the battle between Thai HIV sufferers and French HIV activist group Act Up-Paris on the one hand, and pharmaceutical giant Abbott Laboratories on the other. In February, Abbott placed a blockade on its HIV medicine Aluvia in Thailand after the Thai government allowed the manufacture of cheap generic versions of expensive HIV medicines.

Abbott then filed a lawsuit against Act Up-Paris after it launched an internet demonstration on Abbott's web site. After much media coverage and community anger, Abbott dropped the lawsuit on July 22. The blockade, however, remains.

Act Up-Paris president Hugues Fischer said: "From my point of view, for Abbott to be deliberately preventing the Thais from procuring a lifesaving HIV medicine is tantamount to murder. Abbott must drop its blockade now — to merely drop its lawsuit against Act Up-Paris is almost besides the point."

IAS President Dr Pedro Cahn earlier slammed PM John Howard's comments in June about denying HIV positive people entry to Australia. Cahn said the "statements by the prime minister indicating that he would move to ban migrants and refugees who are HIV positive from entering the country is a blatant disregard of basic human rights, and only serves to compound current HIV prevention and treatment efforts.

"Public health experts throughout the world agree that attempts to reduce HIV transmission by controlling the movements of people living with HIV are both impractical and ineffective; such statements also send an incredibly discriminatory message to a population that has been at the forefront of prevention, care and treatment efforts since this epidemic began."