News Release

Top Bush Administration Member on HIV/AIDS Policy Also Heads Drug Industry Front Group Opposing Generics

With the 15th International AIDS Conference underway in Bangkok, American policy watchdogs charged today that the Bush administration is implicated in a conflict of interest with the drug industry. The following analysts are available for interviews from Thailand and from the United States.

ASIA RUSSELL
SHARONANN LYNCH
Both Russell and Lynch are with the group Health GAP, and they are both currently in Bangkok attending the International AIDS Conference. Russell said today: “Abner Mason is a member of the Bush administration’s Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS and chair of its International Subcommittee, as well as the president of a drug industry-funded front group named the ‘AIDS Responsibility Project.’ The main function of that organization, of which he is apparently the sole employee, has been lobbying against the use of cheap generic drugs. In Monday’s Bangkok Post, Mason’s group took out a full-page ad attacking generic drugs. It is hard to gauge whether the global AIDS treatment community is more shocked to learn that a drug industry stooge is at the highest advisory level of AIDS policy in the United States or to learn the lengths to which he and his paymasters would go to falsely undermine confidence in proven and effective treatment options.”

Lynch said today: “Delegates sent by the Bush administration have been spending a lot of time trying to undermine scientifically proven HIV treatments and prevention interventions such as condom outreach, comprehensive and age-appropriate sex-education and treatment with generic medicines prequalified by the World Health Organization. Here we have heard even more scientific evidence coming out of clinical studies and field reports supporting such approaches while U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Randall Tobias and his entourage continue to behave as if they have blinders on. Worse yet, the United States is using its economic muscle to help big pharmaceutical companies against generic competitors whenever it negotiates bilateral trade agreements, such as with Thailand, in spite of the fact these countries facing a health crisis are allowed the right to produce or import generic drugs under World Trade Organization rules. As a new Government Accountability Office report [details below] finds, the U.S. unilateral effort is reaching too few people as it is rife with administrative chaos and riddled with restrictions that have crippled service delivery. The U.S. needs to join the global community efforts that prioritize effective, well-coordinated treatment and relief rather than drug company profits.”

[See:www.taipeitimes.com/News/world/archives/2004/07/13/2003178811, www.aidshealth.org/newsroom/press/PR060704a.htm] More Information

JULIE DAVIDS
Julie Davids is with the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project. She said today: “The Bush administration blocked key scientists from attending the Bangkok conference. This means that many U.S. scientists were shielded from learning in very concrete terms how underfunding of the Global Fund and the strings-attached nature of the funds from the bilateral U.S. initiative are harmful to global efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. These scientists were effectively segregated from their peers around the world, prevented from sharing findings and latest research…. Members of ACT UP Philadelphia, among others, are rallying Thursday, July 15, at the annual conference of the NAACP, claiming that President Bush is AWOL on AIDS and demanding that Senator Kerry take a firm and public stand on his AIDS policies.”
More Information

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Meanwhile, the U.S. Government Accountability Office [GAO] released a report this week assessing the performance of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which was announced in January 2003 as a bilateral initiative separate from the United Nations Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis. The Government Accountability Office interviewed 28 staff members from two agencies responsible for carrying out the on-the-ground work, USAID and Department of Health and Human Services.

Some key findings:

* As of February 2004, a total of 78,921 people, or about 4 percent of the announced goal of 2 million by 2008, were receiving anti-retroviral treatment in these countries. [GAO Report, page 7]

* The report notes that since 2000, prices of necessary drugs have fallen considerably “owing in part to the increased availability of generic anti-retroviral drugs and public pressure.” The report explains that “some generic manufacturers have combined three drugs in one pill — known as fixed-dose combinations, or FDCs — thereby reducing the number of pills that patients must take at one time.” However, the report continues, “while major multilateral and other donors allow recipients of their funding to purchase these FDCs, the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator currently funds only the purchase of drugs that have been approved by a ‘stringent regulatory authority.'” [GAO Report, page 6]

* When asked to identify challenges, 25 out of 28 respondents cited U.S. policy constraints — “in particular unclear guidance on whether U.S. agencies can purchase generic anti-retroviral drugs, including Fixed Dose Combination pills.” The report notes that one USAID official in Africa stated that “adhering to the agency’s current standards, which generally require that USAID-financed pharmaceuticals be produced in and shipped from the United States, will present a challenge as more governments purchase generic FDCs…” [GAO Report, page 19]

* The report explained that “staff frequently cited the need for the United States to work with the WHO … to minimize overlapping efforts, confusion over standards, and the administrative burden on host governments and other donors.” [GAO Report, page 17]

The full GAO report is available at: www.gao.gov/new.items/d04784.pdf

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167