GENEVA, Apr 23 (IPS) - Brazil has obtained international
support for its policy ensuring free access to the latest
medications for its citizens living with HIV/AIDS, a measure
sharply challenged by the United States.
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights, reaching the end
of this year's six-week session, approved a resolution
presented by Brazil recognising access to HIV/AIDS medications
as basic to the full realisation of the individual's right to
physical and mental health.
The Brazilian initiative was adopted with 52 of the 53 members
of the UN's maximum human rights body voting in favour, the
sole abstention being the United States.
The decision of the UN comes on top of a series of actions and
declarations that have enlivened the international debate in
recent weeks about the validity of pharmaceutical patents that
prevent individuals who are ill and poor from obtaining
One of the prominent episodes of this controversy took place
last week in South Africa when 39 transnational pharmaceutical
corporations, under heavy pressure from the international
community, decided to withdraw their lawsuit against the
country for its legislation that guarantees low-cost medicines
for the population, especially for those living with HIV/AIDS.
Another case occurred in February when the United States
convinced the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to establish a
special panel in the dispute settlement process to rule if
Brazilian laws on inexpensive drugs violate multilateral
But the related legal proceedings at the WTO have ground to a
halt because the United States has not pushed for the
designation of the three members to the panel.
In diplomatic circles here, it is widely held that Washington's
representatives are waiting for the controversy on
pharmaceutical patents to dissipate before pushing the WTO
Secretariat to name the panel members.
The decision taken by the UN Commission on Human Rights
benefits Brazil, according to diplomatic sources, because it
urges countries to establish policies to promote the
availability of pharmaceuticals and medical technologies to
treat pandemics such as HIV/AIDS.
The Brazilian representative had asked the UN Commission to
establish unequivocal principles and objectives to guide
governments' national and international actions in the
The ambassador from Norway stated that the question of access
to low-cost medications goes beyond HIV/AIDS and extends to all
''Access to drugs carries the features of what we now refer to
as 'global public goods.' Yet drugs are largely manufactured
and marketed as 'global private goods' by large multinational
companies,'' said the Norwegian delegate.
In the resolution, the UN Commission calls upon states, at the
international level, to take steps to facilitate, wherever
possible, access in other countries to essential preventive,
curative or palliative pharmaceuticals or medical technologies
used to treat pandemics such as HIV/AIDS.
Another paragraph of the text appeals to industrialised
countries in particular to continue to assist developing
countries in their fight against HIV/AIDS through financial and
technical support, as well as training of personnel.
The United States, the only abstention in the vote, stressed
its commitment to the fight against AIDS and pointed to its
history in that area, which includes efforts to create UNAIDS,
the UN's joint programme dedicated to fighting the deadly
US ambassador George Moose commented that the illness requires
something more than simply a medical response.
Moose said the fight against HIV/AIDS calls for a multi-
dimensional approach, including efforts in prevention,
treatment and care, in addition to medical responses through
the use of pharmaceuticals.
''That effort is not aided by superficial discussions in the
Commission on Human Rights, which lacks the expertise to deal
seriously with the issue,'' said the US diplomat.
The resolution approved by the UN Commission indicates that
countries must adopt policies on AIDS-fighting drugs that
conform to the applicable international laws, especially those
global accords signed by the countries.
That paragraph refers to the provisions of the WTO's agreement
on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) that
regulate pharmaceutical patents. In that respect, Moose
predicted the resolution would be interpreted by many as
casting doubt upon multilateral accords intended to protect
intellectual property rights.
The US diplomat agreed with the arguments put forth by the
pharmaceutical transnationals that ''the only way we are going
to encourage the investment that is needed to develop new drugs
is by protecting intellectual property rights.''
The effects on human health of international regulations on
protecting medical patents is an item on the agenda for
discussion in May at the annual meeting of the World Health
Organisation, and in June by the WTO.