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Groups worried over FTA with US, Malaysia

Groups worried over FTA with US

Maria J. Dass

11 September 2006

KUALA LUMPUR: For people living with HIV/AIDS, access to anti-retroviral drugs is a crucial factor in helping them lengthen their lives.

They are worried about the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations between Malaysia and the United States as this may involve patent and data exclusivity issues and affect access to affordable anti-retroviral treatment.

The Ministry of Health has already been in negotiations with pharmaceutical companies to supply anti-retroviral drugs and in 2003, it issued a license to import generic drugs from India. The government has also been distributing free anti-retroviral drugs to people living with HIV/AIDS.

It is believed that as a result of this, pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to bring in new anti-retroviral drugs.

At a forum to discuss the issue on Friday, Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) president Prof Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman said: "There are many concerns, probably because we are not privy to the negotiations.

"We look to the Finance and International Trade and Industries Ministries to take this issue into account when doing negotiations, to speak on behalf of us."

She said the government has been committed towards improving treatment, prevention and care for people living with HIV/AIDS.

MAC is concerned with the probability that the US will make demands which are similar to those contained in the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement).

In a statement, the Positive Malaysian Treatment Access and Advocacy Group (MTAAG+), Harapan Komuniti and Positive Living Foundation said this will go against the Doha declaration on TRIPS and public health and as a result, cuts down access to affordable medicines.

Among the provisions the organisations are concerned with is that which grants companies generating test data exclusive rights over that data, for a certain period of time (data exclusivity). This prevents the use of generic drugs during that period.

they are not patented.

Speaking from the perspective of pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer Malaysia managing director John Latham said there was no reason to be concerned as pharmaceutical companies have a good rapport with government agencies which and often deal directly with the government agencies.

He said bilateral agreements do not affect prices and the pharmaceutical companies also support the government’s efforts to distribute free anti-retroviral drugs by selling it to the ministry of health at a lower price than the market rates.

There is also no reason for us to hold back new drugs from entering the Malaysian market, he added.

"Speaking for Pfizer, we would have no reasons to do that," added Latham.