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UN to meet on HIV drugs

A Cambodian delegation headed by Bun Rany, the wife of the prime minister, will arrive at the United Nations General Assembly in New York today to negotiate a draft declaration on HIV/AIDS policy that has drawn sharp criticisms from NGOs in Cambodia.

NGOs fear the European Union will use the high-level UN meeting to advocate stronger intellectual property controls on the manufacture of generic copies of patented antiretroviral drugs, both through the UN’s ‘draft zero’ declaration and the its Free Trade Agreement negotiations with India.

The generic copies, 90 percent of which are estimated by experts to be manufactured in India, cost significantly less than the near identical branded originals, allowing some 40,000 people in the Kingdom living with HIV to access cheap, safe treatment.

Such treatment is subsidised by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis – a scheme which NGOs have said the EU, the United States, Japan and Switzerland are tying to avoid financing past 2012 by deleting a provision of the draft zero declaration.

Heng Phin, an evaluation manager at Cambodian People Living with HIV/AIDS Network, said yesterday that a letter circulated by 10 Cambodian NGOs to the Ambassador for the EU and dozens of embassies last week over the issues had received little response at first.

“I tried anyway to go to the office of United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to see [Surya] Subedi and also the secretariat of the German embassy and also Raphael [Dochao Moreno], the representative of the EU delegation,” he said.

Moreno, who yesterday said he was too busy to comment, agreed to raise concerns expressed in the letter at the UN General Assembly, Heng Phin said, as had Subedi.

Pen Mony, national coordinator of the Cambodian Community of Women Living with HIV, said yesterday she had also raised concerns about the EU’s negotiations with India with Bun Rany through Cambodia’s National Aids Authority. “We just do our best to make sure India does not sign the agreement with the EU,” she said.

Last week’s letter also attacked Japan, the US and Switzerland for allegedly pushing for weakened protections for generic ARVs. Mark Wenig, public affairs officer of the US embassy in Phnom Penh, said last week the US would negotiate at the UN meeting to “ensure we save as many lives as possible”.

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