The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) has been hailed for its potential to remove barriers to free trade. However, in free trade, someone (else) often ends up paying. Significant pressure from the US pharmaceutical industry lobby means that the price paid by low- and middle-income countries could be the loss of access to affordable life-saving HIV medications.

The Australian government has a long tradition of strong policy and programs to support the fight against HIV and care for people with HIV in south-east Asia and the Pacific.  APEC partners and TPPA signatories such as Vietnam and Malaysia need Australia to join them in rejecting text in the TPPA that restricts access to generic HIV medications.

US government negotiators for the TPPA have pushed strongly for the inclusion of language in the TPPA to limit the production and sale of generic medications in developing countries.

Yet in June this year Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd told the United Nations General Assembly that “treatment for HIV should be available for all those who need it, regardless of where they live”.

And just last week Hillary Clinton said we could see a generation without AIDS in the near future and that access to affordable treatments was one of the key ways this will happen.

The Global Fund to eliminate HIV, malaria and tuberculosis meets next week in the face of a crisis in contributions from governments, with no contributions this year from Spain or Greece — for obvious reasons. The financial crisis could lead to a halt to the distribution of funds or major cuts. A rise in the price paid for HIV drugs could make this an even bigger crisis. Many of our low- and middle-income country neighbours rely on the Global Fund to supply most of their HIV medications.

On World AIDS Day 2010, the Prime Minister said “Let us keep the light of hope burning in our hearts, until we can stand together, and say the journey is over and the job is done,” stressing the need for universal access to treatment.

In June, all members of the UN unanimously agreed to the target of getting 50% of people living with HIV on treatments by 2015. Currently, only 30% receive treatments and given the global economic uncertainty, that may not change for some time.

President Obama and the Prime Minister should ensure the TPPA secures continuing access to affordable generic medicines for all parties.

That is the leadership we need to see.

*Rob Lake is the executive director of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations; Shiba Phurailatpam is the regional co-ordinator, Asia Pacific Network of people living with HIV/AIDS

Peter Fray

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