Activists Protest Federal Policy on AIDS Drugs

From Associated Press

About 200 AIDS activists blocked traffic outside the office of Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky on Wednesday to protest U.S. policies they say defeat developing countries' efforts to get AIDS drugs. Fourteen people were arrested.

Members of the group ACT UP held signs, chanted slogans and tied up traffic outside Barshefsky's office on 17th Street about a block from the White House.

They accused Barshefsky of supporting U.S. pharmaceutical companies by using the threat of economic sanctions to prevent developing countries from producing generic drugs vital in the fight against AIDS.

"I just don't think that's an accurate picture," said Tom Tripp, a spokesman with the U.S. trade representative's office.

"You have to recognize there's a complementary relationship between issues like public health policy and the protection of intellectual property rights," Tripp said, which include patent agreements. "It's not one or the other; you have to work them together."

Demonstrators contended the U.S. government supports large pharmaceutical companies who want to maintain high prices for drugs. The mix of drugs necessary for AIDS patients is too expensive for most residents of developing countries, said Julie Davids, a spokeswoman with ACT UP.

The organization had been demonstrating for months against U.S. policies toward South Africa after that country passed a law giving itself unspecified power to import AIDS drugs from counties where they are sold more cheaply or to license production in South Africa.

The United States was pressuring South Africa to amend the 1997 law but backed down last month after South Africa signed an agreement not to implement it in a way that would violate patent rights or other world trade rules.

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