Wed, Nov 15, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Rich nations `block cheap drugs for developing world'

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Poor people are needlessly dying because drug companies and the governments of rich countries are blocking the developing world from obtaining affordable medicines, a report said yesterday.

Five years to the day after the Doha declaration -- a groundbreaking deal to give poor countries access to cheap drugs -- was signed at the WTO, Oxfam says things are worse.

The charity accuses the US, which champions the interests of its giant pharmaceutical companies, of bullying developing countries into not using the measures in the Doha declaration and the EU of standing by and doing nothing. Doha technically allows poor countries to buy cheap copies of desperately needed drugs but the US is accused of trying to prevent countries such as Thailand and India, which have manufacturing capacity, from making and selling cheap generic versions so as to preserve the monopolies of the drug giants.

"Rich countries have broken the spirit of the Doha declaration," said Celine Charveriat, head of Oxfam's Make Trade Fair campaign. "The declaration said the right things but needed political action to work and that hasn't happened. In fact, we've actually gone backwards. Many people are dying or suffering needlessly."

The Indian generics firms make most of the cheap drug cocktails that are now being rolled out to people with HIV in Africa and are keeping more than a million people alive. They brought the price of a basic three-drug cocktail down from US$10,000 a year to less than US$150. But new AIDS drugs will soon be needed because the virus will become resistant to the basic ones now in use -- as has happened in the EU and the US.

Those newer AIDS drugs, together with drugs for cancer and diabetes, are under patent. The Oxfam report points out that 4 million people were newly infected with HIV last year and cancer and diabetes are expanding faster in developing countries than in the richer world.

The report says that, since the signing of the Doha declaration on Nov. 14, 2001, "rich countries have failed to honor their promises. Their record ranges from apathy and inaction to dogged determination to undermine the declaration's spirit and intent.

The US, at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry, is uniquely guilty of seeking ever higher levels of intellectual property protection in developing countries."

The US has pursued its own free trade agreements with developing countries, tying them into much tighter observance of patent rights than anticipated at Doha.

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