AIDS Demonstrators Arrested Downtown Washington DC
April 21, 1999

Sixteen people were arrested at a demonstration by AIDS activists outside a downtown pharmaceutical industry trade office where they were protesting an African trade bill they said would prop up the price of disease-fighting drugs on a continent where 70 percent of the world's new AIDS cases are reported.

The hour-long rally drew about 250 demonstrators from the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, as well as labor, consumer and environmentalist groups opposed to the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, sponsored by Reps. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Philip M. Crane (R-Ill.). The demonstrators favor a competing HOPE for Africa Act sponsored by Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.).

Both bills would set up a free-trade zone for 48 sub-Saharan African countries. But the first bill protects drug makers' patents and targets laws encouraging cheaper generic treatments, activists said.

The industry maintains that such laws would allow pirated versions of its products, undermine expensive research programs and pose safety threats.

Those arrested were charged with blocking a public entrance and were released after paying fines.

Washington Post, April 22

photo by Mike Fugennock

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Hundreds of demonstrators rallied in Washington Wednesday to protest at policies which they say protect drug companies but make AIDS drugs too expensive for people in Africa.

Chanting, waving signs and in some cases defying police, AIDS activists and environmental and trade groups demonstrated in favor of legislation sponsored by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., an Illinois Democrat.

Jackson's bill would forbid the Clinton administration to retaliate against any African country that tried to use certain
trade provisions to obtain cheaper AIDS drugs. About 22.5 million people in Africa are infected with HIV or have AIDS.

The United States needs to "give African governments and African corporations an opportunity to produce medicines that will be widely distributed among the people of sub-Saharan Africa so (they) can live," Jackson told supporters gathered in a downtown park during lunch hour.

Health and consumer groups have criticized the Clinton administration for pressuring developing countries on behalf of drug companies to abandon trade approaches that could help them obtain cheaper medications.

Drug makers and U.S. officials say the trade powers these countries might use violate patent rights and would hurt companies' ability to invest in future AIDS drugs.

The trade powers include compulsory licensing and parallel importing. The first, legal under World Trade Organization rules, allows countries to grant a local company authority to make cheaper, generic versions of drugs even while the products are still protected by patents. Parallel imports let countries buy drugs through third parties at lower prices.

A drug industry spokesman said pharmaceutical companies opposed compulsory licenses to protect patents on AIDS drugs that cost hundreds of millions of dollars apiece to develop.

"It's our industry that developed life-saving protease inhibitors, and our companies continue to invest billions of dollars into AIDS research to develop even better new generation medicines," said Jeff Trewhitt of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PHRMA), a trade association representing drug makers.

The disputed trade powers have become a rallying point for AIDS groups that say the gap is growing between those who can afford medications and those who cannot.

Carrying signs reading "Human Rights, Not Corporate Rights" and "Just Say No to Drug Lobbyists," demonstrators marched through city streets to PHRMA's offices in downtown Washington.

"We're not going to allow our president (Clinton) and vice president (Al Gore) to bully and harass and kill people in Africa," Julie Davids of the activist group ACT UP Philadelphia told the rally.


A diverse coalition of groups -- including the International Needletrades and Garment Workers Union, Rainforest Action Network, Public Citizen and several ACT UP chapters -- rallied in Washington, DC, yesterday to demand passage of the HOPE for Africa Act (HR 772), a U.S.-Africa trade bill that would allow African countries to use certain trade provisions to secure cheaper AIDS drugs (ACT UP Philadelphia release, 4/21). Sponsored by Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL), the measure would forbid the U.S. government from retaliating against any African country that attempted to use compulsory licensing or parallel importing provisions to obtain discounted anti-AIDs treatments. The U.S. must "give African governments and African corporations an opportunity to produce medicines that will be widely distributed among the people of sub-Saharan Africa so (they) can live," Jackson said at the rally (Richwine, AP/Nando Times, 4/21). Scott Nova, director of Citizens Trade Campaign, said, "Our trade policy shouldn't encourage nations to move backwards when there is so far to go fighting this epidemic." CTC contends that an opposing bill -- the African Growth and Opportunity Act (HR 434) sponsored by Reps. Philip Crane (R-IL) and Charles Rangel (D-NY) -- would provide "protections for pharmaceutical giants by providing incentives for nations to adopt restrictive intellectual property rules that will interfere with efforts to lower the costs of AIDS treatments" (CTC release, 4/21). Drug companies and trade officials argue, however, that compulsory licensing and parallel importing could violate patent rights and could hamper companies' research and development of new drugs. PhRMA spokesperson Jeff Trewhitt said, "It's our industry that developed life-saving protease inhibitors, and our companies continue to invest billions of dollars into AIDS research to develop even better new generation medicines" (AP/Nando Times, 4/21).

Over 67% of the people with AIDS in the world live in Africa. Yet few of these 22.5 million people have access to medicine. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to only 10 per cent of the world's people, but 70% of new AIDS cases have occurred there. AIDS has decreased life expectancy throughout the region: in Zimbabwe alone life expectancy has been cut by 25 years.

The H.O.P.E. for Africa Act (Human Rights, Opportunity, Partnership, Empowerment) (HR 772), sponsored by Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL) offers a plan for combating AIDS that would save lives in Africa. The Act enables developing nations to locally manufacture inexpensive versions of high priced pharmaceuticals.

Currently the U.S. Government is pressuring countries like South Africa not to exercise this and other life-saving rights because U.S. and European drug companies don't want it to happen. The HOPE Act, HR772

"The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act," or, 'NAFTA for Africa'.

This bill would punish nations for manufacturing affordable drugs, and would cause developing countries to slash spending on health and education....

Backed by multi-nationals including the Pharmaceutical Research and Maufacturers Association, the "Africa Growth and Opportunity Act," would accelerate an epidemic that has already killed 12 million sub-Saharan Africans, and will kill an estimated13 million more by 2005.

HOPELESS: "Africa Growth and Opportunity Act" (HR 434)

Denying nations' authority to determine what is best economic policy for their own countries, HR 434 is set up to let foreign corporations with no interest in the welfare of Africans call the shots.

The corporate bill is being fast-tracked through Congress, and has significant support from the well-heeled lobbies of multinational oil, pharmaceutical, mining, and other corporations -- those who would gain the most from it. But across the country, AIDS activists, African community organizations, U.S. labor groups, religious leaders, environmentalists, consumer rights groups and others are working together to demand support for HOPE for Africa, opposition to HR 434, and an end further colonization of Africa.




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