1120111 aids
Workers hang a huge red ribbon on the North Portico of the White House one day ahead of World AIDS Day November 30, 2011 in Washington, DC. - 

Jeremy Hobson: Well today is World AIDS Day. And activists are marking the date with a push for generic AIDS drugs that are cheaper.

Our senior business correspondent Bob Moon has more.

Bob Moon: Secretary of State Clinton recently hailed the falling cost of treating AIDS -- per patient -- in Africa and Vietnam.

Hillary Clinton: In 2004, the cost averaged nearly $1100 a year. Today, it is $335 -- and falling.

She credited bulk purchasing, cheaper shipping methods, and what she called, simply "lower cost drugs." What she didn't mention is what's driving those costs down.

Brook Baker: That success has been possible because over 90 percent of the medicines currently used are generic.

Brook Baker is a Northeastern University Law professor, and an advocate for loosening global monopolies on AIDS drugs. He says the pharmaceutical lobby is trying to keep a tight grip on newer treatments by stiffening global patent protections. But he says they shouldn't be considered one company's intellectual property.

Baker: Medicines are treated like bicycles -- they're simply marketplace commodities. But the difference between the bicycles the medicines are people's lives and well-being depend on them.

A statement from Abbott Labs tops the company's committment to tiered pricing for countries in greatest need. It contends that balances the needs of patients with its investment in developing new drugs.

I'm Bob Moon for Marketplace.