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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - EU slammed over HIV policy

EU slammed over HIV policy

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A three-year-old boy, who is an HIV-positive patient, holds a flower to give to US Senator John McCain before his visit yesterday to an HIV/AIDS hospice, founded by a member of the National League for Democracy party, in Yangon, Myanmar. NGOs in Cambodia yesterday raised concerns over potential rises in the prices of HIV drugs in the Kingdom

A Coalition of Cambodian NGOs has slammed the European Union for “blackmailing” poor countries in negotiations over a free trade agreement with India that the groups say would restrict the access of people living with HIV to cheap, safe drugs. 

The 10 NGOs, all representing people living with HIV in Cambodia, said in a letter sent to dozens of embassies across Phnom Penh yesterday that the EU was using the FTA to propel its own intellectual property rights agenda at the expense of poor people’s access to drugs.

“Over the past three years we have been calling on the EU to stop this same immoral blackmail in its Free Trade Agreement negotiations with India and several other developing counties,” the letter stated.

Generic versions of patented HIV drugs produced in India and other developing nations over the past decade have allowed people living with HIV in poor countries to access otherwise unaffordable treatment.

Heng Phin, monitoring and evaluation manager at Cambodian People Living with HIV/AIDS Network, which supported the petition, said yesterday that since generic HIV drugs began flowing into Cambodia in 2001, the price of standard treatment had dropped from US$10,000 per year to about $80.

Such drugs could also be accessed for free by people living with HIV, he said, because of a Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria that contributed US$45 million to HIV treatment in Cambodia this year. “In Cambodia more than 70,000 people are in need of antiretroviral [drugs] and at the moment 85 percent of ARV medicines are imported from India,” he said, adding that 40,000 people were presently accessing treatment.

The EU, says Heng Phin, is pushing for stronger intellectual property laws that, if agreed, would stymie India’s production of cheap un-patented drugs – therefore raising the price of treatments available in Cambodia.

The propagation of generic HIV treatments, most commonly antiretroviral drugs, has concerned pharmaceutical companies that argue their ability to invest in research and develop new drugs is decreased by lost revenue.

Yesterday’s letter also attacked the EU, and other developed countries such as America, Japan and Switzerland, for trying to weaken protections of generic drugs in a United Nations draft declaration, known as the zero draft, to be voted on in coming weeks at the UN General Assembly.

Hor Bun Leng, deputy secretary general of the state’s National AIDS Authority, said yesterday the government was worried by concerns raised by the coalition that commitments to replenish the Global Fund beyond 2012 had been deleted by the EU, United States and Switzerland in the zero draft.

Representatives of those country’s embassies could not be reached for comment yesterday. Rafael Dochao Moreno, Charge D’Affairs of the European Union delegation to Cambodia, said he hadn’t had a chance to read the letter yesterday and was unable to comment.

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