FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – 19.07.16 – Obama Gets “BIG THANK YOU” from Big Pharma at 2016 International AIDS Conference


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – July 19, 2016, Durban – Obama Gets “BIG THANK YOU” from Big Pharma at 2016 International AIDS Conference

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Video available here:

At the 2016 International AIDS Conference held in Durban, South Africa, treatment access advocates presented a huge greeting card addressed to President Obama from Big Pharma to US Ambassador Patrick Gaspard, thanking the US government for “doing big pharma’s bidding all over the world”.

The activists, acting in the role of Big Pharma execs, sang “we want to thank you, thank you” and chanted “USA! USA!” They lavished praise on the Ambassador for the US pursuit of the interests of the pharmaceutical industry at the expense of access to affordable medicines, including pressuring India to curtail its legal generic medicine industry, and attacks on an initiative of the UN Secretary General to address access to medicine challenges.

The action was a reflection of the widespread anger at the disconnect between the positive rhetoric of President Obama on HIV, and the aggressive pursuit of trade and intellectual property policies which serve to increase pharmaceutical profits but undermine global health.

In particular, the US government is:

  • Exerting significant and sustained pressure on the Indian government to close down the legal space for the Indian generic pharmaceutical industry – the source of over 80% of HIV medicines used in the developing world
  • Vocally undermining the UN Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Access to Medicines, an initiative established to address the growing challenge facing governments in the West and the Global South in securing affordable, quality medicines
  • Insisting that the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement include dozens of measures to expand and extend drug monopolies and raise drug prices. Doctors Without Borders calls the TPP “the worst trade deal ever for access to affordable medicines”
  • Placing countries who explore policy options to secure access to medicines on the Special “301” list enabling trade retaliation by the US if they do not abide by Big Pharma-supported intellectual property policies.
  • Opposing efforts at the Human Rights Council, the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other agencies to address drug pricing concerns in developing countries.
  • Refusing to let generic drug companies use the government’s rights in drug patents, to sell affordable generic versions of Xtandi, a prostate cancer drug, in South Africa and other developing countries.

In the discussion with activists, Ambassador Gaspard acknowledged: “we don’t always get it right”. On Monday at a 10,000-strong Treatment for All march he said: “we think it’s outrageous that some put profits before health”.

Diarmaid McDonald, an activist from ACT UP London, said:

The stakes are very high – the US is committing huge resources to boost the profits of big pharma at the cost of the lives of people waiting for access to lifesaving medicines. The US Government has diligently defended Big Pharma’s interests in countries where people die due to unaffordable medicine prices. Treatment activists from around the world agree that this must stop.

We hope that the Ambassador will hear our message and push President Obama and US Trade Representative Froman to end the US Government pressure on governments around the world to put private profits ahead of public health.”

Jamie Love, the Director of Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), said:

There is no more reliable and persistent ally of big pharma than the Obama Administration.  Just ask the many former officials now working as lobbyists for the drug companies. When Joe Biden is not presenting himself as a working class hero, he is pressuring India over its patent policies, or Colombia over its biosimilar rules. Ambassador Froman has big pharma talking points and pseudo facts memorized, gives almost zero face time with treatment advocates, gives drug companies preferred access to negotiating texts, and twists arms behind closed doors. Kerry has allowed the State department to be a taxpayer paid bully for big pharma, at the expense of poor people who are sick. Collectively, they have been worse than the George W. Bush administration on these issues.”

Ambassador Patrick Gaspard committed to meeting with activists before the end of September.



Notes to editors:

The International AIDS Conference is taking place in Durban this week. About 14,000 people living with HIV, researchers, government representatives, have convened in Durban over the past week to discuss the funding crises in HIV and TB alongside cutting-edge science.

Link to Ambassador Gaspard’s tweet that “civil society needs to be aggressive”:

Reporting on US opposition to the UN HighLevel Panel:

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