amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

News Briefs

October 2003


WTO Deal Eases Rules on Generic Drug Importation 

After months of stalled negotiations, several days of marathon talks culminated in a breakthrough in late August when World Trade Organization members (WTO) agreed unanimously to allow developing countries to import generic drugs without violating trade laws protecting patent rights.

In February, U.S. negotiators refused to sign a deal under the Doha declaration unless wording was included to restrict the measure to apply to a handful of diseases in specific countries. On August 27, the U.S. compromised, agreeing instead to the addition of a “chairman’s statement” that specifies that a country can issue a “compulsory license” to import generic drugs if that nation confirms that it “has insufficient or no manufacturing capacities in the pharmaceutical sector for the product(s) in question.”

World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Jong-Wook Lee welcomed the agreement but warned that it would fail unless countries are able to improve the infrastructure of their health care systems. Several countries said the new deal could create complications in generic drug access, require developing countries to justify their drug programs to the WTO, and potentially give Western countries veto power (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/2/03).

Experts Support Condom Program for Sex Industry 

Asian health experts agreed to expand a program advocating condom use in the sex industry to help curb the region’s escalating HIV/AIDS epidemic (Agence France-Presse, 8/21/03). 

The pledge was made at a four-day conference in Laos examining the success of the “100 percent condom use program,” an initiative widely promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO). The program encourages condom use among commercial sex workers, who are at high risk for HIV infection. The WHO is working with authorities in China, Myanmar, Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos, and the Philippines to promote the initiative.

WHO figures show that 6-9 billion condoms are distributed annually worldwide, well short of the 24 billion condoms needed (Bangkok Post, 8/18/03). China’s estimated six million sex workers alone require more than one billion condoms per year to be safe. Studies have shown that last year fewer than 20 percent of China’s sex workers used prophylactics regularly (Agence France Presse, 8/15/03). 

The WHO policy has been criticized by some nongovernmental groups which claim the agency is effectively condoning prostitution by encouraging condom use among sex workers. The program has been widely successful in Thailand and Cambodia where new infections have dropped more than 80 percent in the past 10 years, WHO officials say.

Indian Prime Minister Calls on Government to Fight AIDS 

Speaking at India’s first national conference on HIV/AIDS in July, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee called for a greater political commitment to fight the disease. He called for an “undelayed response” and a “complete absence of prejudice towards affected persons” (The New York Times, 7/26/03). 

The prime minister’s remarks came one day after the government announced that the number of people with HIV had surged to 4.58 million people from 3.97 million in 2001, narrowing the gap with South Africa, which, at 5 million infections, has the largest HIV-positive population.

Although the conference led officials to engage in the most open discussion on AIDS to date, leaders of the hardest-hit areas did not attend. (Agence France-Presse/Yahoo! News, 7/27/03).