Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Free trade? Or free trade only for the already rich and powerful? - Part II


More sad discoveries awaited me. During the course of that week, I chanced upon a group of sex workers from Cambodia. Carrying banners with the words "sex work is work", the small group of women appeared to be agitating for more respect for their work. However, as I talked at length with them, I learnt that they were protesting how they had been deprived of life-saving HIV drugs.

After Cambodia joined the WTO, it had to observe rules such as only allowing the distribution of patented drugs in the name of protecting intellectual property and encouraging medical innovation. However, this also meant it could not allow the distribution of generic drugs from countries such as India and Thailand which could have been obtained at a mere fraction of the cost of their patent-protected cousins.

And for a country such as Cambodia, it could ill afford to buy these very expensive patented HIV drugs for its patients. The woman I interviewed told me about how the quantities available in Cambodia were very limited, but even if there was more supply, she wouldn't have been able to afford them. She later related how she had seen about 20 of her friends die from AIDS.

After I filed this story late that evening, which happened to be on my birthday, I spent the rest of the evening thinking how insidious arrangements such as "globalization" and "free trade" really were. While they were expressly working to give more people access to goods and services, in reality, they were killing the most marginalized, vulnerable and disempowered pockets of humanity.

 

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