World AIDS Day, Public Health and IP


 W O R L D   A I D S   D A Y

World AIDS Day, initially held in 1988 and recognized on the 1st day of December each year, is the first  ever global health day that unites people around the in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Through World AIDS Day, participants are able to show their support for people living with HIV, honour the deceased and commemorate how far we’ve come in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

An estimated 34 million people are currently living with HIV/AIDS, and more than 35 million people have died from the virus, making it one of the most devastating pandemics in history.  Advancements in science have enhanced the treatment of HIV/AIDS, thus significantly improving the lives of individuals living with HIV/AIDS.  However, many remain uniformed about how to protect themselves and others from HIV/AIDS, and misinformation largely guides the stigma and discrimination directed towards many people living with HIV/AIDS.

World AIDS Day is an important reminder that HIV/AIDS is very much a current and pressing issue that requires attention, awareness and money to eradicate. World AIDS Day also provides an opportunity for the public to learn the facts surrounding HIV/AIDS, and in the furtherance of this goal, here’s some information about public health and intellectual property.

P U B L I C   H E A L T H  ,  H I V / A I D S   &   I N T E L L E C T U A L   P R O P E R T Y

There are several obstacles barring access to lifesaving medicines for individuals living with HIV/AIDS, especially those residing in developing countries.  The prices attached to lifesaving pharmaceutical drugs have been largely blamed as a barrier to access.  Many have stated that medicines, particularly newer ones required for second and third line HIV treatment, are expensive, partly due to the  intellectual property protections surrounding these medications. The HIV/AIDS movement has been long and tumultuous, below you’ll find a few notable facts about access to medicine and intellectual property:

  • With the formation of the WTO in 1994,  came the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) ;  any country that wanted to participate in global trade had to sign the agreement.
  • According to defenders of TRIPS, its intention was to encourage innovation and balance the rights of patent holders and consumers. However, some have blamed TRIPS for the legally protected patent monopolies that have limited competition and resulted in higher costs of medicines, and thus barred access.
  • In response to critics, WIPO has stated that the perception that patents are blocking access to HIV/AIDS drugs is overly simplistic and incorrect. Further, it went on to assert that in the majority of countries of sub-Saharan Africa where no patents exist, there is still a dramatic lack of access to drugs.
  • Although TRIPS has a standard patent regime, it allows for certain “flexibilities” to enable developing and least-developed countries to use TRIPS-compatible practices in a manner that allows them to pursue their own public policies. The use of compulsory licensing, parallel importation, and Bolar provisions are forms of flexibilities that protect access to treatment.
  • According to WHO, “Affordability of drugs could be increased substantially however, by eliminating or reducing import duties, distribution costs and dispensing fees. These can account for up to 80% of the total price paid for drugs. In particular, import duty can be as high as 30%, while value-added and other national and local taxes can amount to 20% of a drug cost.”

While it is apparent that there are varying positions surrounding the cause(s) of  the lack of access to HIV/AIDS medicines in certain countries/populations; seemingly so, there is a general understanding and agreement that too many individuals living with HIV/AIDS are not receiving the treatment required. As we move forward, it is imperative that attention is focused primarily on supporting those living with HIV/AIDS, educating individuals, and backing scientific advancements, and research and development initiatives. In solidarity we can achieve an AIDS-free generation in our lifetime.

P R E S I D E N T   O B A M A   O N   W O R L D   A I D S   D A Y

Visit more information about World AIDS Day.

Photo Credit: Jayel Aheram 

About: Tracy Ayodele

Tracy Ayodele is a Canadian lawyer, called to the Bar of Ontario, and a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School. She has a keen interest in IP policy, social innovation and the intersection of technology, development and start-up culture in emerging economies. She is a spirited legal researcher and writer, and co-authored “Hot-tubbing in Canadian Patent Litigation: A Preliminary Assessment” published in the Intellectual Property Journal.

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