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Developing countries resist pressure on medicines

Developing countries resist pressure to back down on access to medicines in Sydney

Oxfam today blamed entrenched attitudes of rich countries such as the US, Canada, Switzerland and the European Union for failing to reach consensus on medicine prices at the trade ministers’ meeting in Sydney.

Oxfam said these countries continue to defend the profits of their pharmaceutical giants to the detriment of the right to health of the world’s poorest people.

Developing countries attending the Sydney meeting resisted strong pressure to give up their long fight to try to get access to affordable drugs.

“The irony is that while developing-country delegates in Sydney were being pressured to back down, world opinion has been swinging in their favour,” said Michael Bailey. The proposition from the European Commission has been unraveling at home, with the French, Belgium, Dutch and European Parliaments supporting the proposals favoured by many developing countries. And leading US newspapers are now vocal critics of US policy on this issue.

Developed countries with a strong pharmaceutical industry base are promoting a reform to WTO patent rules which supposedly allows poor countries to import cheap generic medicines but which could be unworkable in practice.

The major problem with the developed countries’ solution is that the company supplying cheap generic copies of drugs needed to combat AIDS, TB, pneumonia and many other killer diseases, would have to ask the government of its own country to override the relevant patent, before any export can take place. This makes the needy importing country unacceptably dependent on the political will of another government, and increases the administrative burden.

Worse yet, potential suppliers would also be under enormous pressure from the United States not to help out and beneficiary countries would be put on trial to prove that they really need the medicines.

'An insurmountable barrier to getting cheaper medicines would be replaced by numerous lower ones' argues Oxfam, the campaigning charity. 'We urge negotiators who will meet in Geneva on November 25th to resist pressure from industry and obtain a workable deal before the end of the year. The health and lives of millions of sick and needy people are at stake.”

A workable deal should:
- Provide a fair, permanent and permit economically viable production of affordable drugs, with no restrictions on potential suppliers.
- Be beneficial to all developing countries and covering all diseases, without any conditions or restrictions.
- Be quick, simple and easy to operate.
- Be fully agreed and implemented by end 2002.


Federico Monsalve, press officer, 0061-4-140-160-52 (Sydney) 0064-9-376 9292 (Auckland)

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