Clinton Executive Order Blasts Industry Plans to Provide Aids Drugs in Africa

For months, five major pharmaceutical companies have been working with the United Nations on a carefully crafted agreement to dramatically reduce the cost of AIDS drugs for patients in heavily stricken Sub-Saharan Africa. Last week the UN announced the agreement in which some companies pledged to sell their drugs at pennies above manufacturing costs while maintaining critical patent protection.

But in one fell swoop-with yet another executive order-President Clinton last week threw a grenade into the plans. He issued an executive order just before the five-company agreement was released that would allow African nations facing health emergencies to authorize companies to copy AIDS drugs, regardless of U.S. patents. And in a slap to the will of Congress, the president?s order was issued AFTER Congress had voted down an amendment nearly identical to his executive order in the recent debate over the trade bill.

This action puts a dagger at the throat of the industry that is racing to develop breakthrough miracle drugs to cure this horrendous human tragedy that afflicts 23 million people in Africa. The value of patent protection in the pharmaceutical industry cannot be overestimated. If the U.S. government sides with violators, the intellectual property rights of this industry eventually will not be safe anywhere.

The carefully-crafted U.N. agreement provides the drugs virtually at cost while still maintaining patent protection. The executive order opens the door not only to violators of AIDS patents but to other products as well.

What is most disturbing, the democratic process has been offended for what appears to be raw political purposes – to help the campaign of Al Gore and Hillary Clinton with the AIDS activist community, particularly in New York and California. Al Gore was booed by AIDS activists during a speech last year.

With the World AIDS conference set to take place this summer in Africa, this issue takes on a dramatic political interest; the executive order appears to be an attempt to give Gore a tactical political advantage. At the same time, Hillary Clinton has shown over and over that she believes government, not the private sector, should be in charge of decisions involving health care, and this is just another example.

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