NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

To Fight AIDS, Respect Patents And Profits

April 23, 2001

Last week's decision by pharmaceutical firms to drop a lawsuit challenging a South African law that allowed the importation and manufacture of generic AIDS drugs constituted a tragedy of far-reaching proportions. Experts warn that AIDS activists are selling the disease's victims down the river when they push for price controls and undermine patent protection.

  • In Africa, 26 million people have died of AIDS since the 1980s -- and a further three million are diagnosed with it each year.
  • The disease is rampant in Africa because most nations there have ignored it and they lack an adequate health-care structure, medical experts point out.
  • Uganda, an exception, began a program of prevention and drug treatment to stop mother-infant HIV transmission in 1986 -- with the result that incidence of AIDS there has decreased from 30 percent of the population that year to about 14.5 percent in 1999.
  • At the other end of the spectrum is South Africa, which has failed to build effective treatment and prevention programs -- preferring instead to fight drug companies, ignore their patents, and rely on price controls.

Experts say that the ultimate solution to AIDS is prevention. And in addition to better public health systems, African countries need a vaccine. Developing it will require an investment in research which only private companies can make.

The International AIDS Vaccine Initiative is a public-private partnership established to develop and deliver an HIV vaccine to the Third World. As its founders acknowledge, it can't succeed without preserving patents and higher prices in the First World, as well as protecting patents and creating a guaranteed, though lower-priced, market in the Third World.

Source: Robert M. Goldberg (Senior Fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis), "Fight AIDS With Reason, Not Rhetoric," Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2001.

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