Bertram Williams Jr.
Dr. Matthias Kaelberer
International Political Economy 4510
November 19, 2012
Intellectual property rights and HIV/Aids drugs for Africa
Compassion, as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it. Eighty-nine percent of the world’s HIV infected population lives in the poorest ten percent of countries. Sixteen African countries have an HIV infection rate of ten percent or more of their adult population. Five of the ten market leaders in terms of pharmaceutical sales call the United States home. What roles could these organizations play in the alleviation of the Aids epidemic in Africa? This paper will attempt to answer this question by analyzing the perspectives of multinational pharmaceutical manufacturers, international trade organizations, and the African nations dealing with the Aids epidemic.
A society built solely around individualism and profit seeking is akin to a house of cards, because any civilization bereft of a true sense of compassion and community inevitably faces collapse. It is this line of thinking that helped develop the ethos of this paper. Multinational Pharmaceutical manufacturers have a duty to the world community to find both fair and beneficial means to provide HIV/ AIDS vaccines to developing nations, especially those in Africa. This paper will explore the concepts of intellectual property and patent laws, compulsory licenses, trade relations between the United States and Africa and the effect of HIV/Aids on African economic stability. In closing, recommendations will be made on the issue of patent law and equitable distribution of the medicines protected by these laws. The Aids epidemic seems to have no bounds, but this paper will focus on two major players- Africa, because the disease is ravaging its countries at an alarming rate and America, because it is home to many of the producers of the drugs that can help these nations heal.
The basis of this debate rests on the notion that an individual maintains exclusive rights to the inventions of one’s own mind. This concept does not mesh well with the societal norms of many countries. In some countries, intellectual property is viewed as Western individualism. This occidental approach to development is met with much criticism when it is upheld at the expense of a larger group of people. If an inventor maintains the right to monopolize an innovation that benefits society by saving lives, how can we be sure that the inventor receives their just due and still meet the needs of the people whose lives need saving? This is exactly the issue with antiretroviral drugs created by American drug manufacturers for a disease that is mostly African.
Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (referred to as TRIPS), an agreement between nations on the issues surrounding intellectual property and patent law, serves as a profit securing mechanism for developed nations and a progress stifling system for nations still developing. For clarity, while developing nations benefit to some degree by obeying the rules set forth by TRIPS, thus granting them recognition by the World Trade Organization, it could be argued that the costs still outweigh the gains. Jim Keon, president of the Canadian Drug Manufacturers Association in Toronto, elaborates. “These countries are under a tremendous amount of trade pressure,” he said. “Developed countries offer them cheaper tariffs for their exports in exchange for patent protection. It’s a tradeoff that ends up hurting them in the pharmaceutical arena.” Many African nations are forced to choose between adequate health care for its citizens or exclusion from the international business community and this should not be the only alternative.
US Trade with Africa
The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) was