Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Access to Medicine Ongoing Challenge for Poor

Oxfam has released today a Briefing Paper outlining how very little has changed to improve access to medicines since Doha. In the press release accompanying the publication, Oxfam says, "Poor people in developing countries are still being denied life-saving medicines five years after world leaders signed a formal trade declaration to put health before profits."

The Briefing Paper, entitled "Patents versus Patients: Five years after the Doha Declaration," maintains that trade rules continue to present a major barrier to genuine access to affordable medicines. The Paper describes patent protection as an ongoing obstacle to the delivery of cheaper generic versions to poor countries and calls for urgent action.

The Paper states "The Doha Declaration unequivocally recognises and clarifies that the TRIPS Agreement should not prevent WTO member countries from taking measures to protect public health," and "recognises the legitimate need of countries to take measures to reduce the price of medicines, such as using TRIPS safeguards." However, the "TRIPS-plus agenda" is seriously compromising the availability of such flexibilities and safeguards. In particular, the Briefing Paper criticises US trade policy and the emphasis on bilateral and regional free trade agreements as a way to ensure strong intellectual property protection despite the commitment to public health in the Doha Declaration. This is combined with what the paper describes as the indifference of other rich countries, where "all pharmaceutical companies selling medicines in a developing country, including European countries, benefit ... essentially 'free-riding' on US efforts to introduce TRIPS-plus rules."

The paper calls for new ways to promote patients over patents, noting the World Health Assembly Resolution of 2006 which established the inter-governmental working group. The World Health Organization (WHO) is tomorrow completing a public hearing in preparation for the meeting of the working group. Oxfam's paper focuses on several important cases, including the Glivec controversy.

The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA) was reported in Reuters today as arguing that access to medicines is not the major public health issue in the developing world, but rather inadaquate infrastructure. But Ellen 't Hoen of Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) was quoted as saying "The current system based on patents and high prices to pay for innovation leads to rationing and leaves huge health needs neglected."

Oxfam is currently launching the Briefing Paper at BMA House in London, with highlights to be published at Patents vs Patients: Whose Rights Come First?

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