GlaxoSmithKline CEO Responds to Oxfam Campaign Against Pharmaceutical Companies
"No bigger challenge faces the world than the need to improve access to health care in developing countries," GlaxoSmithKline CEO Jean-Pierre Garnier writes in response recent reports in Britain's Guardian and other international press regarding Oxfam's "Cut the Cost" campaign against world trade laws on drugs patents. "Oxfam's report this week correctly identifies deep-seated barriers to the developing world's access to medicines: 'Household poverty, inadequate public spending and weak public-health infrastructures combine to place effective treatment beyond the means of the poor,'" he continues. "Yet the report does not focus on these real and fundamental problems. Instead, predictably and frustratingly, it chose to focus on the protection of intellectual property, demonizing the research-based pharmaceutical industry in the process," he writes. The Oxfam report quotes a World Health Organization estimate that two billion people lack access to "vital" medicines, but Garnier argues that less than 5% of the medicines on WHO's essential drugs list are "covered by patent protection anywhere in the world." Oxfam's proposal to "weaken" patent protection "would do nothing to alter this situation" and could in fact have "dangerous consequences," Garnier writes. "Patent protection fundamentally underpins the continued research and development for new and better medicines for diseases ... Undermining intellectual property rights could have serious implications for the flow of new treatments and vaccines," he continues. Although Garnier calls AIDS a "crisis of devastating proportions," he writes that "[s]implistic suggestions that drug prices are the main problem [in developing countries] are frankly irresponsible." AIDS treatment in countries lacking the necessary infrastructure is a "massive challenge," he adds. GlaxoSmithkline has offered "preferential prices" in Africa for HIV/AIDS medication since 1997 and increased the price reductions last year as part of the U.N.-led "accelerating access initiative," Garnier notes, adding that the company's prices are "at a level with, if not better than, those offered by generic manufacturers." Garnier concludes, "GlaxoSmithKline will continue and indeed strengthen its commitment in this area. We are determined to play as full a role as we are able, in partnership with all other stakeholders, in the global [health] effort" (Garnier, Guardian, 2/14).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.