Thursday, May 5, 2011

UNAIDS Now Open About Being Pharmaceutical Industry Mouthpiece

The English Guardian has suddenly noticed that "Beating copyright infringement in the third world could be as simple as making products affordable". I have argued this on several occasions in the last few years, including here and here, but I would not be the first person to make this point.

However, I'm happy to hear that Joe Karaganis and others have spent three years researching the issue and come up with the Media Piracy in Emerging Economies report. But I don't expect that to make much difference to the position of people in developing countries.

It is also worth stressing that intellectual property (IP) protection, one of the most popular forms of trade protection among those who ostensibly oppose trade protection, is not paid for by those who benefit from it; it is paid for by consumers, in rich and poor countries alike. It's like a kind of tax that we pay to protect the interests of the rich. And it can represent well over 90% of the revenue that IP owners receive.

The report is also important in being independent, unlike much of what we read about IP, copyright issues, piracy, counterfeiting, fakes and whatever else industry is currently whining about.

We might think that everyone can do without luxury goods, especially people who are also short of water, food and medicine. However, various multinationals are doing everything in their power to control water, somehow or other, they already control food to a large extent and the drug industry is almost entirely run on profits inflated by IP protection.

There may be a lot of talk from Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, the World Trade Organization (WTO), UNAIDS and others about generic medicines and making drugs affordable. But prices of vital drugs are also protected by the same means as other goods. Even drugs whose cost has 'dropped' from the astronomical thousands of dollars per year to not much more than 100 dollars, are protected. The ultimate price charged is 100% controlled by the rich and powerful.

Therefore, the 'South African Generic Medicines Association' may sound touchy-feely enough, what with the 'African' and the 'generic' bits. But it is as much part of the pharmaceutical industry as AVAC or any of these other front groups that claim to be trying to keep costs down and make pharmaceutical products more accessible.

A speech by Paul de Lay of UNAIDS makes it clear who his intended audience is and who stands to benefit from any agreements that are made when it comes to generic drug pricing. The prices discussed may seem affordable when compared to the ridiculous prices they are replacing. But in reality, they are only affordable to the aid industry, not to the people who need them.

And the aid money going towards overpriced generic drugs is effectively another subsidy for those who ostensibly despise subsidies. This is money that could be better spent on the care people need, beyond the mere distribution of drugs, nurses, doctors, other health personnel and much else. But it is not the needs of HIV positive people that are being served here.

Incidentally, de Lay's speech mentions what he considers to be three areas of discussion, HIV prevention, treatment and health delivery. In reality, all three of these refer to drugs, to be paid for by aid money. To date, a relatively small percentage of HIV spending has gone towards prevention, but the industry has agreed that putting more people, HIV positive and negative, on drugs will prevent HIV transmission. And health delivery may sound like more than drugs, but it isn't really. Just read the speech.

It's wonderful how the interests of UNAIDS and the HIV industry as a whole now matches the interests of the global pharmaceutical industry. In fact, UNAIDS' HIV strategy can be summed up in one word: drugs. You can waste a lot more words on it, and you can be sure that UNAIDS and others will, but in the end, drugs are it.

De Lay advocates TRIPS (Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights), TRIPS Plus, Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) and all sorts of other institutions and instruments that only point to one thing: intellectual property and the protection of the very rich against the very needy. The consortium of partners includes the wHO, the World Bank, the Gates Foundation (financed by IP protection) and a few others.

So it's official: the entire HIV industry, fronted by UNAIDS, is run by and for big pharma, and much of the aid industry will continue to subsidise and represent the interests of other industry sectors. The whole pretense of humanitarian motives can now be abandoned, as no one was fooled anyway. But, more worryingly, few seem to object to this either.


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