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Conférence internationale de Mexico

Intervention de Aides et Act Up en session

publié en ligne : 4 August 2008

On trouvera ci-dessous le texte, en anglais, de l’intervention commune à Aides et à Act Up-Paris prononcée à la session du lundi 4 août, consacrée aux formes efficaces de plaidoyer. Vincent Pelletier, directeur de Aides, revient sur le cas Abbott et son appel à boycott. En pièce jointe, le powerpoint de sa présentation, ainsi que le poster que nous avons affiché officiellement sur le même sujet.

Good morning everybody.

I would like to thank the reviewers of this track for giving me the opportunity to meet and talk with you. For beginning I would like to ask you a question : would demanding the right to use competition laws for an aids patient undergoing treatment be a good way to put pressure on the pharmaceutical industry ?

To answer, I would like to present you the case of the complaint made against Act Up by Abbott in France. But first of all, let me introduce myself. My name is Vincent Pelletier and I am the Managing Director of AIDES, leading French HIV/Aids NGO and I’m also the director of PLUS, an international coalition of community-based Aids organisations.

Let me begin by telling you a story. It is the story of David and Goliath.

Once upon a time, there was a gigantic firm, a drug manufacturer which produced billions of capsules and tablets. Armed with an annual budget of 26 billion dollars and 68 thousands of associates in 130 countries, it is one of the biggest pharmaceutical firms in the world. Let’s call it Goliath or Abbott, as you wish.

Like other pharmaceutical companies, it relies on the revenues made by selling its products at the best price (meaning of course as expensive as possible) and to as many people as possible. Its biggest fear is rising competition and losing its patents in favour of generics, and thus losing out on the profits it must provide to its shareholders.

One day, a country, Thaïland, decided to use a generic manufacturer to get its supplies of Kaletra in dry form (Aluvia) which is more appropriate and comfortable for patients with HIV. Incensed, Abbott decided to take retaliatory measures towards Thailand, threatening to stop commercialising its new products there, hoping in this way to make the country yield. This aroused the indignation of the international Aids community.

An association of French activists, Act Up-Paris - the David in our story, thinking that medicine should not be regarded as a commodity, decided to react. Its methods are few but well known, often extreme and incredibly effective. So, like David who attacked Goliath, the militants also attacked. They did so by flooding the Abbott website with emails and faxes.

Abbott retaliated by bringing Act Up to court - an unprecedented action in the history of the fight against Aids. Abbott was sure that Act Up would collapse under the financial burden of lawyer’s fees and damages.

As Managing Director of AIDES and HIV positive, I was invited at that time to make a speech at the opening of the AIDS Impact 2007 conference which was held in France in the name of all French communities. Outraged by the behaviour of Abbott, I decided to change my speech and to use this opportunity to talk about the story and to call on HIV positive people and their doctors, all over the world, to boycott Abbott and if possible, their entire range of products.

In order to do this, I took as my starting point the hypothesis that if manufacturers and patients can’t agree that medicines are not a commodity, then perhaps we should begin to think like the manufacturers. If medicines are a commodity, then patients like us, are consumers. And consumers have rights and methods of action. If we can consume one product, then we can also go elsewhere and see if another product suits us better medically, and more significantly, ethically.

Following this, and the international mobilisation against Abbott, the company retreated and withdrew its complaint. The battle is not over, and all the people who need treatment do not have access to the best treatment for them, but a small step has been taken. David has conquered Goliath.

As the number of medicines increases, we as patients and doctors now have a considerable choice. Naturally, all this must be done in agreement with one’s doctor, but it is obvious that in developed countries but also more and more in developing countries, even if it is still impossible for many, patients today have a new authority in this area.

Would it be conceivable to have an international alliance between patients who have no problems with their medicine or supplier and those who have?

It is up to us to know how to use this new authority. Even if we are convinced that medicines should not be regarded as a commodity, facing a Goliath whose sole objective is to make a profit for its shareholders, we need to use all the weapons we have to guarantee universal access to the best medicines at the lowest possible prices.

It is only through international mobilisation that we can put pressure on an industry that sees us as mere pill swallowing machines. Let us show them that we are also capable of solidarity.

This cannot be done without asking ourselves some fundamental questions: When, with how many different medicines available, with how many firms present in the country can we decide that we have enough choice and can therefore use the competitors’ products? How can we mobilize patients with other illnesses to boycott the products of a company which acts unacceptably towards Aids patients? How can we assess the effectiveness of such measures so they are not in vain and have a real impact on access to care and fair prices? How do we make Social Science researchers aware of these issues? How do we mobilize patients in the North countries, who have free access to care with their social security systems, to rally for the patients in the South, who are victims of industrial and political blackmail?

If we can answer these questions (and others) then perhaps we can mobilize patients to influence the behaviour or act against industrial giants.

Thank you very much.

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