Lies, Distortions, and False Promises: The U.S. Position on Compulsory Licenses in the 2018 Special 301 Report

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By Brook Baker, Senior Policy Analyst Health GAP

Every year since the late 1980s, the U.S. has published a Special 301 Watchlist targeting countries that U.S. intellectual property-based industries, like Big Pharma, complain about. Once again the U.S. is unbelievably duplicitous in its 2018 Special 301 Report on permissible uses of compulsory and government-use licenses by its trading partners, including most recently Colombia and Malaysia where it is announcing out-of-cycle reviews.

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Higher Stakes and a Bigger Impact for People Living with HIV: a Report Back from 2018 PEPFAR Country Operational Planning

Over the last two weeks, teams from 23 countries converged in Johannesburg, South Africa for regional planning meetings to plan how PEPFAR funding will be spent in October 2018-September 2019—programming nearly $4 billion toward the HIV response in these countries.

Health GAP together with AIDS activists and civil society representatives from around the world also joined these meetings—which were restructured this year thanks to activist pressure. Together we succeeded in harnessing this opportunity to win critical and exciting changes toward a more ambitious, accountable and effective HIV response.

We have stepped up our efforts year after year, with greater coordination, expanding networks, and sharper advocacy skills, pushing for bolder targets and strategies in order to hold PEPFAR accountable and have a more powerful impact. This work is even more vital at a time of limited resources and when evidence-based strategies are under more pressure than ever.

As a result of the strategic accountability work of global and local civil society in response to this new process, significant new PEPFAR funding will move into high-impact programs to address the priorities and needs of people living with and affected by HIV in the 2018 Country Operational Plans (COPs).

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Don’t Be Afraid of Compulsory Licenses Despite US Threats: Special 301 Reports 1998-2017 – Listing Concerns but Taking Little Action

For the past 20 years in its annual Special 301 Reports, the US has consistently criticized countries that do not have compulsory licensing standards that Big Pharma likes, that threaten to issue compulsory licenses, or that have actually had the temerity to issue a compulsory license. All the infamous cases are here – the threat against South Africa because of a misreading of its 1998 Amendments to its Medicines and Related Substances Act that it would allow compulsory licenses, 2001 WTO action against Brazil over one of its compulsory licensing provisions, the 2007 threat against Thailand after it issued government use licenses on HIV, cancer, and cardiovascular disease medicines, the strident 2012-2017 threats against India after it issued just one compulsory license on an overpriced cancer medicine, the 2008 and continuing threats against Ecuador for multiple compulsory licenses, and the 2013 and continuing threats against Indonesia after it issued seven licenses on HIV and hepatitis medicines and later amended its patent law to make it easier to issue compulsory licenses.

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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.


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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