In October, Bill Clinton brokered with generic drug companies in India and South Africa to provide antiretrovirals at a third of the current cost to people suffering from AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. The cost will be even lower than the current price for generics. It's an extremely promising development. One of the few remotely positive things that came out of the WTO conference in Cancun was a deal permitting poor countries to import generic copies of patented medicines to treat diseases like AIDS. But the WTO deal put so many bureaucratic barriers in the way of countries that wanted to produce generics for export, and there was so much fear of retalition by the United States, which zealously protects its pharmaceutical companies, that it seemed unlikely that many generic drug companies would find the battle worth fighting.
In essence, the Clinton Foundation, with a lot of personal lobbying and finagling by Bill Clinton himself, helped companies in India and South Africa break down some of the barriers. The Wall Street Journal details Clinton's involvement and achievement. Essentially, according to the WSJ, he created a viable market by convincing governments to roll out nation-wide treatment programs (and helping to find funding for those programs) which insured the generic drug companies a large enough number of patients over time to make a small profit. Clinton also got the drug companies to open their books and manufacturing processes to outsiders, who hunted for ways to cut costs.
Dr. Bernard Pécoul of Doctors Without Borders's Access to Essential Medicines Campaign says that because of the Clinton Foundation's actions, "the World Health Organization's objective of reaching 3 million by 2005 becomes much more feasible."
Kaisernet has an essential round-up of just about everything that's been written on the subject.
But of course, there's always a downside. The Wall Street Journal article suggests that patent-holding pharmaceutical companies may try to block the deal. If they do, it will put George Bush in an interesting position. He's exploited the AIDS crisis, putting more money into AIDS prevention and relief (although not as much as he says he put), but arranging the system to benefit drug companies rather than victims of AIDS. He even appointed a former CEO of Eli Lilly, and member of a group that lobbies to protect drug patents, Randall Tobias, to oversee his AIDS plan. If he had any concern for suffering people, he'd be thrilled with the Clinton Foundation's achievement, because it would make any money the United States put into AIDS relief go a lot farther. If he does anything to back the drug companies in this case, it will be pretty obvious that he asked American taxpayers to pay for nothing but relief of the suffering pharmaceutical companies.