Abuja, Nigria, 25 April 2001 — Oxfam and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) welcome the announcement made by President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria that 10,000 people will soon have access to free AIDS drug cocktails as part of comprehensive new AIDS programme. The Nigerian president was speaking at the African Summit on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Other Related Infectious Diseases.
However, use of generic equivalents of new drugs will be much more difficult after 2006, when all developing countries are scheduled to be compliant with TRIPS, the Trade Related Agreement on Intellectual Property Rights.
"The scope of this program is made possible by Nigeria's decision to buy generic drugs at the best current price on the world market, in this case $350 per patient per year, " said Bernard Pécoul, Director of MSF's Access to Essential Medicines Campaign. "We welcome this evidence that growing commitment to battle AIDS in Africa is being transformed into concrete action".
At the meeting this week, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called for the creation of a "War Chest" of 7-10 billion US dollars to ratchet up prevention and treatment programs. The international NGOs strongly supported this proposal, but said that it is critical that the fund be designed to purchase medicines and other commodities at the best possible world-wide price. This will partly determine the number of patients reached.
"We are urging African leaders and the international community to press for re-examining TRIPS to tip the balance in favour of public health of Africans," said Oxfam's Regional Director, Jasmine Whitbread. "As it stands, in practise TRIPS is imbalanced, in favour of commercial interests. The Nigerian approach, possible today, will be an unfulfilled dream for African patients tomorrow, unless these rules are challenged now".
It is significant that the most populous country in Africa has decided to use a generic strategy to enable more people to access antiretroviral treatment. Another country that is using this strategy is Brazil, which has had a dramatic success in cutting HIV-related mortality rates. However, its national patent laws are now being challenged by the US in a WTO trade dispute.
Developing countries are able to take these actions now to combat HIV/AIDS epidemics, however, the use of generic equivalents of new drugs will not be possible after the full implementation of the TRIPS. This will put new medicines for HIV/AIDS and other illnesses beyond the means of poor patients and poor nations. In recognition of this concern, developing countries led the way to an agreement to dedicate a full day on TRIPS and Health, during the TRIPS council scheduled for June.
The news of Africa's largest public AIDS drug program was made at the African Summit on HIV/AIDS, TB and other Related Infectious Diseases, a heads of states meeting taking place this week in Abuja, Nigeria.