Trade deal threat to HIV medicines

Trade deal threat to HIV medicines

Activist Martyn Goddard called for AIDS organisations to lobby against this week’s Free Trade Agreement with the United States, calling it a nasty deal for people living with HIV/AIDS.

The FTA includes changes to Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) that will allow drug companies to appeal decisions made by the existing Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC), The Australian reported.

Goddard told Sydney Star Observer the current PBS system led the world in terms of getting affordable prices for prescription medication. The FTA would undermine the organisation’s authority and lead to delays and price rises, said Goddard.

Although Prime Minister John Howard insisted the deal would not see a rise in prices of medications for patients, it is unclear why the PBAC -“ an independent advisory committee -“ would now be under the scrutiny of another independent advisory committee. Health minister Tony Abbott told The Sydney Morning Herald that the mechanics of the appeals process would be finalised over the next few months.

Goddard is a former member of the PBAC board and is now health policy officer for the Australian Consumers Association and called for activists and organisations to join forces in lobbying against the deal. This is a very nasty deal for people with HIV, Goddard said.

AIDS organisations are already preparing to lobby against the FTA, including the National Association of People Living With HIV/AIDS (NAPWA).

The president of NAPWA David Menadue told the Star he was dismayed by the deal, and shocked by the possibility the United States might be able to influence Australia’s health care policy as a consequence. In a factsheet on the FTA released by the office of the US trade representative this week, it was announced that the forming of a medicines working group will provide for continued dialogue between the United States and Australia on emerging health care policy issues.

I just find that incredibly intrusive and bizarre, without any obvious accountability to parliament or our people -¦ Menadue told the Star. We’re not quite sure why they’re making these changes, because our belief is that they’ll probably take away from the current independence of the PBAC system, which will obviously result in delays in getting drugs to the people who need them, including people with HIV -¦

I just think the whole business is certainly a sham, he added.

Goddard agreed and called for action.

There’s a growing awareness of the problems of this deal and we need to build those alliances with other groups, Goddard said. People with HIV have been more active, smarter and more successful than people in almost every other disease area. But we’ll need all our smarts now.

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