Last week, the United States government reached new heights of hypocrisy when, in its speech to the UN General Assembly at the United Nations High-level Meeting on Ending AIDS, it claimed to support affordable access to medicines in one breath but, with the next, adopted Big Pharma’s talking points almost verbatim and attacked efforts by other governments to ensure affordable access to medicines.
Earlier during the week, countries of the Global South stood up to the United States and refused to remove important language from the declaration that guaranteed the full use of public health protections under the World Trade Organization Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement and demanded that free trade agreements not undermine those protections. When the U.S. failed to get its way, it instead made a speech attacking the United Nations Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Access to Medicines. You can reach the full statement by U.S. Ambassador Sarah Mendelson here.
The UN High-level Panel on Access to Medicines is a panel of eminent world leaders seeking to tackle the incoherence between the international human rights regime that guarantees access to medicines as a right, and the intellectual property regime that requires monopolies on life-saving medicines. Many are hopeful that the panel will deliver the kinds of evidence-based policy recommendations on expanding access to affordable medicines that have been the anathema to the Obama Administration and Big Pharma.
Meanwhile, the United States is placing tremendous and reprehensible pressure on Colombia to stop its efforts to protect public health through driving down the price of a life saving cancer drug. This is despite the fact that these efforts by the Colombian government are completely consistent with World Trade Organization rules on intellectual property. The Obama Administration also continues to lobby aggressively for passage of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, which would be the worst trade deal in history—grossly expanding the power of Big Pharma while restricting the ability of countries to manufacture and import affordable generic drugs.
It is time for the Obama administration to stop the hypocrisy and focus on its own policy coherence. The Administration must decide whether it stands for reaching all people living with HIV with affordable treatment, as it claims, or if it stands with Big Pharma in blocking access to affordable generic medicines. They cannot stand for both. We hope President Obama, and whoever succeeds him in November, will chose taking a stand for life and health over Big Pharma.