Trading away the health of millions

"It's already hard enough to get treatment here," said Carmen, a soft-spoken Guatemalan woman in her 60s. "Why wouldn't the United States want to help us in this? They should not make it harder."

Carmen is one of the nearly two million people living with HIV or AIDS in Latin America and the Caribbean, and one of the six million people throughout the world who are in urgent clinical need of antiretroviral therapy (ARV). But the US and its powerful pharmaceutical industry have made it harder by pushing for more stringent intellectual property requirements in regional trade agreements like the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and the US-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) that restrict generic competition, the only factor that has resulted in sustainable price reductions for essential medicines.

Such provisions undermine the 2001 Doha Declaration, an agreement adopted by all World Trade Organization (WTO) members which reaffirmed the right of countries to make full use of existing flexibilities in international trade treaties in order to "protect public health and promote access to medicines for all." Similar agreements pursued by the US with Morocco, Thailand, five southern African states, and other countries will most likely include similar restrictions.

These proposals threaten to trade away the lives of millions for commercial profit and make lifesaving treatment a luxury few people like Carmen can afford.