A coming out of sorts - A message from Health GAP's new board chair

In the late 1990s, an acquaintance I met at my acupuncturist’s office – Evan Ruderman, the formidable AIDS and women’s rights activist – kept inviting me to get involved with a group that “got together by phone to talk about global AIDS issues.” I declined a number of times.

Honestly, despite being HIV positive myself, I was more embarrassed than anything that I didn’t even know there was a global AIDS pandemic.

Then in January 2000, I read an article in the New York Times about then-Vice President Al Gore and the United Nations Security Council framing the HIV pandemic as a security threat but that lifesaving treatment just “wasn’t feasible” due to the high costs. I got really angry. Little did I know then, Al Gore had made global AIDS a focus of the Security Council’s agenda in response to incredibly effective pressure brought by AIDS activists, including Health GAP members – but that is a story for another time.

Here I was HIV positive for 11 years, having almost died five years previously. I was yanked away from death’s door because of newly released ARV (anti-retroviral) “cocktail” drug combination—with a full-on “Lazarus effect.” But people in sub-Saharan African countries and throughout the developing world just couldn’t have access to the same life-saving drugs that I had because they were too expensive? I couldn’t believe it.

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ICASA 2017: We will not be silenced

Heading back to my home-base in Uganda after last week’s International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) held in Côte d’Ivoire, I was on a flight full of Ugandan politicians, activists, and researchers--and we were left shaking our heads. ICASA 2017 felt like a shambolic anachronism—a conference that tried to foreclose the rightful space of civil society to speak out and fight back.

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I had traveled to Abidjan to join forces with other activists from across the continent to challenge policymakers, discuss the latest progress in science, and demand aggressive scale up of treatment, prevention and human rights. Particularly for West and Central African countries, where only 35% of all people living with HIV are on treatment, compared to 60% of all people with HIV in East and Southern Africa, this ICASA could have been a moment to focus on the urgent need for political courage in the fight against AIDS in a region that is chronically left behind because of gross underfunding, human rights violations targeting criminalized populations, and lack of prioritization by political leaders from around the world. Instead ICASA 2017 served to further reinforce just how far we have to go in the fight to end AIDS.

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Expanding Access to Life-Saving Medicines: What Government Must Do Next to Continue Reforming Drug Patents in South Africa

Late last month, Health GAP's Senior Policy Analyst Professor Brook K. Baker made a submission with Yousuf Vawda to the government of South Africa calling for steps the government must take in order to implement its Draft Intellectual Property Strategy 2017 and reform how patents on medicines are granted in South Africa. These proposed changes from the government came about after targeted activist pressure from the Fix the Patent Laws campaign, led by Treatment Action Campaign, Médecins Sans Frontières, and other AIDS activists. Read the full submission here.


A letter to the U.S. Trade Representative re: South Africa’s efforts to promote access to life-saving medicines

Health GAP and its allies sent a letter to the U.S. Trade Representative urging the government and pharmaceutical industry not to interfere with South Africa’s efforts to promote access to life-saving medicines.

 

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Canada Blinks in Face of US/Pharma Pressure – Supreme Court Adopts Wink-Wink Patent Utility Rule

In a stunning reversal of policy, on June 30, 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned decades of precedent making it easier for the biopharmaceutical industry to gain patents on medicines without any real proof of a claim that a putative invention has any meaningful utility.  This reversal in AstraZeneca Canada Inc. v. Apotex, Inc. is particularly disconcerting because Canada had just won an investor-state arbitration award in the long awaited Eli Lilly v. Canada case upholding its more stringent promise/utility doctrine that had been used successfully to overturn two dozen secondary patents, particularly those claiming new uses of known medicines, where patent claimants failed to present evidence in support of the prediction of therapeutic benefit promised in their patent applications.

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