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News Briefs

Cipro Action Feeds Push to Cut Cost of AIDS Drugs


Angry that the Bush administration was willing to force price reductions for Bayer’s anti-anthrax treatment, Cipro, but unwilling to exercise similar clout to reduce the cost of AIDS drugs, the leaders of 60 poor nations teamed with activists worldwide to challenge the World Trade Organization meeting Friday in Doha, Qatar.

At issue is the organization’s crucial Trade Related Intellectual Property agreement, or TRIP, which affects worldwide patent protections for medicines.

Protesters are demanding sweeping changes in the agreement to allow rival generic manufacturers, on a limited basis, to sell discount versions of patented drugs for a host of diseases in poor countries. However, the pharmaceutical industry opposes such steps, arguing that without a guarantee of high returns on their research, they can’t fund work on future medicines.

The activists are especially upset because this week, while Americans are focused on anthrax and the threat of bioterrorism, Congress slashed its previously committed allocation for the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria from nearly $1 billion to be paid into the fund in 2002-03 down to $190 million.

High Court to Weigh Drug Testing


The Supreme Court agreed Thursday to decide whether all high school students who participate in extracurricular activities beyond sports can be forced to undergo random drug tests.

A ruling on the issue, which can be expected by next spring, should clarify how far public school officials can go in requiring drug tests of students.

The justices have said that students have lesser privacy rights than adults. Six years ago, they upheld an Oregon school district’s policy of testing school athletes for drug use.

School officials in the small town of Vernonia, Ore., said they had a serious drug problem. Athletes serve as role models and must be seen as drug-free and, beyond that, young athletes would risk serious injury if they were using drugs while playing sports, officials said.

For all these reasons, the Supreme Court approved the school’s drug-testing policy and rejected the claim that it violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

Committee Passes Stimulus Plan


The Senate Finance Committee said farewell to congressional bipartisanship Thursday and passed a $66.4 billion economic stimulus plan authored by Democrats that Republicans derided as “pitiful ... insulting” and loaded with pork-barrel spending.

The committee voted along party lines and approved a bill, 11-10, that modified the package proposed five weeks ago by President Bush and differed sharply from the $99.4 billion package passed by the House three weeks ago.

As Democrats tried to secure support, the package of rebates for low-income workers, expanded insurance and health benefits for the unemployed, and incentives for business was enhanced by adding special-interest items, including a $5.3 billion, 10-year program to help rebuild lower Manhattan.

Half of the cost of the Senate measure, $34 billion, would extend unemployment benefits by 13 weeks and expand health coverage for the unemployed. It also provides rebates for some 38 million taxpayers who paid payroll taxes but did not receive full $300 refunds last summer; temporary increases in Medicaid allowances for states; and an incentive that allows businesses to calculate as expenses 10 percent of the investment cost.