_Changing Global Patent Rules: Health Before Wealth
Currently 40 million women, men and children are infected by HIV, the majority of them are unable to afford the essential medicines which might have saved them. Oxfam's Cut the Cost campaign aims to stop international trade rules restricting access to medicines in poorer countries.
At national level, the campaign has focussed on countries such as South Africa, Brazil, and Thailand. Oxfam was an active member partner in the global campaign that pressurised 39 pharmaceutical companies to drop their court case against the South African government, and persuaded the USA to drop its action against Brazil. In both cases, governemtns were trying to use their national legislation to obtain or produce cheap, generic, antiretroviral drugs.
Similar campaigning has been effective in Thailand, where the Health Minister has now promised to get antiretroviral drugs into the public health scheme and to change Thai patent law to allow compulsory licensing.
Oxfam and its allies have also been pressing for changes to global trade rules. At the ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organisation in November 2001, Oxfam presented a 32,000-name petition, demanding that the WTO put "health before wealth." The meeting ended with the Doha Declaration, which affirmed that patent rules should not be used to prevent countries obtaining or producing affordable medicines to meet public health needs.
Belkis Perez and her second child, Jennifer, were diagnosed HIV-positive when Belkis was pregnant with her third daughter. She did not receive the simple medication that would have prevented her from passing the virus to her child, so Yania was born with the virus. Belkis can't afford the antiretroviral drugs that could help prolong her life and the lives of her children.
"It is not right that we cannot get the medicines we need. If we had access to anti-retrovirals we would have a future. I really can't see a future, not for me, not for my children. but we will just keep struggling." -- Belkis Perex, Dominican Republic, speaking in 2000.
The Cut the Cost campaign is now looking at how countries without production capacity of their own can obtain cheap generic drugs, rather than the high-priced branded alternatives produced by the multinational pharmaceutical companies.
To get involved with Oxfam's Cut the Cost campaign:
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