UNITED STATES: Drug companies want in on HIV/AIDS fund

Issue 

BY VIVIEN MILEY

The involvement of the giant corporations in the global HIV/AIDS fund may quickly destroy what hope there is that the global fund will help stop the spread of the virus.

On June 26, the day after the UN General Assembly's special session concluded, a group of multinational corporations making up the Global Business Council (GBC) stepped in to show their support for the UN initiative.

CEOs from corporations such as Coca Cola, MTV, Calvin Klein, Levi Strauss, AOL Time Warner and Viacom met with UN secretary-general Kofi Annan to publicise the GBC's blueprint for a private sector response to AIDS. They definitely want in on the fund, and its US$10 billion.

The US treasury department is seeking to ensure that the board is made up of donors, not just the governments of the recipient countries. "Donors" includes private foundations — and the corporations.

One of the major protagonists will be the giant drug companies, many of whom are members of the GBC.

The drug companies, like GlaxoSmithKline, are in the midst of a long and bitter dispute against countries including South Africa and Brazil, which have sought to produce generic versions of anti-HIV drugs cheap enough for poor people to actually afford. The companies hold the patents on these drugs — and don't want their profits cut by generics which cost a fraction of the price of their name brands.

Under the US Treasury plan, the giant pharmaceutical corporations will be on the board of the global fund. They will be party to making crucial decisions, such as whether to help finance the manufacture of generics or whether to instead buy such drugs from the patent holders.

As if direct representation on the board isn't enough, the corporations can count on the assistance of the Bush administration.

Andrew Natsios, the chief of USAID, the US's agency for providing aid for development to the Third World, has argued strenuously in the media and before the House International Relations Committee against making retroviral medicines freely available to the approximately 25 million Africans suffering from HIV/AIDS. This position is clearly Bush administration policy.

Far from helping combat the pandemic, a global HIV/AIDS fund set up and run in such a way will be little more than a public relations exercise, putting a "caring-sharing" face on the big drug companies.

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