Millions of people a year die of treatable diseases because they can't afford the medicine, a problem international experts will address at a workshop starting today in Norway.
Some 80 representatives of the World Health Organization, the WTO, drug companies and other researchers and health experts were to seek ways to ensure that drugs are sold at affordable prices and that they get to those who need them.
"The main goal is to map conditions that today prevent developing countries' access to needed medicines on reasonable terms," Norwegian Minister of Development Aid Anne Kristin Sydnes said ahead of the meeting. "In Africa alone, 25 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS."
The pharmaceutical industry has come under international pressure in recent years over the price of its patented drugs -- especially treatments for HIV/AIDS -- in developing countries.
The three-day workshop, called "Differential Pricing and Financing of Essential Drugs," will be closed to the public and news media. The delegates cannot make binding decisions, only suggest approaches.
The meeting, which was being held near the town of Hamar, about 100km north of the capital, Oslo, was organized by the Global Health Council, a US non-governmental organization.
According to a WHO background paper for the workshop, 4 million lives a year could be saved by prompt diagnosis and treatment, and two-thirds of all children who die before age 15 are killed by seven treatable diseases.
"Put simply, people are dying because the drugs they need are not available to them," the paper said. "Serious illness is a major reason why poor populations remain trapped in poverty."
Many major pharmaceutical groups have recently slashed prices, sometimes under cost, to provide HIV/AIDS medication that few African countries could previously afford, but relief agencies say they could be doing more.
In general, the industry says it needs high revenues from medicines to fund research and some critics have said governments need to respond by improving the infrastructure to distribute drugs.
Delegates to the conference also face a formidable challenges in such matters as even defining which countries are poor enough to receive cheap medication.