Jim Driscoll, an AIDS activist and advisor to President Bush on HIV-AIDS, and Roger Bate of the conservative American Enterprise Institute have urged countries such as India, China and Thailand to do away with medical tariffs, particularly import tariffs.
Writing a commentary in the Wall Street Journal, they said Bush, who has already taken several initiatives on HIV AIDS, could go a step further by spearheading trade diplomacy to end medical tariffs worldwide.
"He could start by raising the issue in India, where President Bush arrives Wednesday," they recommend.
"Anyone in Asia who cares about the health of the world's poor should warmly endorse the proposal to remove import tariffs on essential medicines that is being tabled at the World Trade Organisation today by the US, Singaporean and Swiss governments," the two authors said, pointing to India's 16 percent tariffs, and Thailand's 11 percent and China's 6.5 percent.
These raise relatively little revenue and end up hurting the poor by denying them access to medications essential to life, health and productivity, they contend.
"Tariffs delay improvements to vital healthcare infrastructure and increase their cost."
South Africa and Kenya have eliminated import tariffs on AIDS drugs and more than 30 developed nations, including the US, Switzerland, Japan, Canada and the member states of the European Union, have implemented a zero tariff policy on all medical products, the authors point out.
India and China could go further by abolishing sales tax on these products as well, they urge.
"Just as we recognise that extraordinary steps are necessary to curb the spread of nuclear weapons and bio-terrorism, the threat of deadly epidemics deserves special measures," they said.