Last update 6/29/2011 11:02:00 AM (GMT+7)

Cost of AIDS drugs may skyrocket

VietNamNet Bridge – With the US pushing for implementation of intellectual property provisions far in excess of what Viet Nam and other countries in the region have agreed under World Trade Organisation regulations, prices of HIV and other drugs could skyrocket in Viet Nam, according to the Viet Nam Network of People living with HIV (VNP+).

A doctor in the northern province of Ninh Binh's Centre for HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control instructs an HIV carrier about treatment. HIV/AIDS patients might have to pay more for their drugs due to US regulations on intellectual property. (Photo: VNS)

The VNP+ said it and other organisations in the region were aware that the US had declared war on generic AIDS medicines through free trade negotiations with countries in the region.

It expected the prices of medicines for HIV, TB, hepatitis C and other major diseases to increase as a result.

At the seventh round of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) negotiations which wrapped up in HCM City last week, the US had taken intellectual property demands beyond what had been agreed under the WTO's Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, the VNP+ said.

Do Dang Dong, national co-ordinator of the VNP+, said the drug prices would rise because under IP rules, all countries would have to import them from manufacturers, mostly American.

The negotiations which came barely 10 days after the United Nations High Level Meeting on HIV and AIDS in New York where all countries including the US committed to "ensure that intellectual property rights provisions in trade agreements do not undermine these existing flexibilities, as confirmed by the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health."

The Vietnamese generics industry, with support from the Government, was taking the lead in providing affordable treatment for hepatitis-C, Noah Metheny of the Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group said.

However, US drug giant Roche is challenging Viet Nam's generic production of pegylated interferon and now the TPPA negotiations are threatening to impose even greater legal barriers that may prevent similar attempts by the country to ensure generic production of key medicines," according to Metheny.

Dong said:"I wonder if President [Barack] Obama and Secretary [Hillary] Clinton realise that the US trade representative is currently demanding that Viet Nam change its laws in ways that would prevent affordable generic production of new AIDS medicines."

For many HIV-positive drug users in the Asian region who also have hepatitis-C, Viet Nam offers the best hope for supplying generic pegylated interferon, the costly medicine used to treat hepatitis-C, according to the VNP+.

Pegylated interferon has been patented in India and Indian generic companies are reluctant to produce it.

The TPPA negotiations will not only make it difficult for Viet Nam and Malaysia to emulate the Indian example, they will in fact mandate that these countries grant patents on small changes made to existing medicines.

Peter Maybarduk of the US group Public Citizen agreed: "The US seems obsessed with maximising intellectual property and favouring the big drug companies, even if it leads to low-quality patents that do nothing for innovation and block access to lifesaving treatment."

Over 80 per cent of those on AIDS treatment in poor countries are taking generic medicines.

Generic production pushed down the price of first-line AIDS medicines from US$15,000 per patient per year to less than $70.

Now many people living with HIV need to switch to newer medicines that are already more expensive.

VietNamNet/Viet Nam News