Press statement

Trade agreements should not hinder efforts towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support

GENEVA, 9  December 2010—The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) calls on all countries to ensure efforts towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support are not impeded by bilateral and multilateral trade agreements. 

There are more than 33 million people living with HIV in the world. In 2009 there were an estimated 2.6 million new HIV infections. Currently there are more than five million people on HIV treatment and nearly 10 million people still waiting for it. Without sustained and affordable access to lifesaving medicines people’s lives will be in jeopardy.

UNAIDS urges countries to fully use the flexibilities provided in the World Trade Organization’s TRIPS Agreement, as needed, to achieve universal access to HIV treatment. UNAIDS fully supports the Doha Declaration, which states, “We agree that the TRIPS agreement does not and should not prevent members from taking measures to protect public health. Accordingly, while reiterating our commitment to the TRIPS Agreement, we affirm that the Agreement can and should be interpreted and implemented in a manner supportive of WTO members' right to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all.”

“The flexibilities set out in the Doha Declaration and the TRIPS Agreement to protect public health and provide access to medicines for all must not be undermined by other trade agreements,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé. “The 33 million people living with HIV have a right to health. While research and development of new medicines and technologies remains crucial, people living with HIV depend upon equitable and affordable access to treatment.”

In this current economic climate, resources for AIDS have already flattened and need for treatment continues to outstrip supply. Trade agreements that place additional burdens on the manufacture, import or export lifesaving medicines—so-called ‘TRIPS plus’ measures such as ‘data exclusivity—and incorrect interpretations of the term ‘counterfeit’ should be avoided.

Currently, Indian manufacturers account for more than 80% of generic antiretroviral medicines—supplying the majority of developing countries. The cost of the least expensive first generation regimen has dropped to less than US$ 86 per patient, per year. But as increasing numbers of people move towards more efficacious and tolerable first-line treatment, drug prices could double compared to first-generation regimens.

As patients develop drug resistance and require more expensive and patent-protected second- and third-line antiretroviral medicines, some projections indicate treatment costs escalating by as much as twenty-fold.

“Countries should not trade away the public health of their people for other trade gains,” said Mr Sidibé.

Currently, for every one person accessing treatment two people are becoming infected. Clearly, treatment needs are still outpacing prevention efforts showing an urgent need for a new line of treatment, microbicides, vaccines and diagnostics.

Current treatment approaches will not be sufficient to provide access to all who need it. UNAIDS and other partners advocate for Treatment 2.0—a framework that seeks to simplify the way treatment is currently provided. For this approach to succeed, TRIPS flexibilities as well as innovation and protection of intellectual property rights will play an important role for access in future.

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