WHO, WTO Begin Three-Day Meeting to Discuss Differential Drug Pricing for Developing Nations
The World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization today begin a three-day meeting in Norway to discuss improving access to essential drugs for developing countries, BBC News reports (Doole, BBC News, 4/8). The meeting, closed to the media and called "Differential Pricing and Financing of Essential Drugs," is intended to be a brainstorming session only and delegates cannot make binding decisions. "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 (Mellgren, AP/Nando Times, 4/8). Health and trade officials, joined by representatives from drug firms like GlaxoSmithKline, Merck & Co., Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb, as well as non-governmental organizations, will also discuss how to prevent discounted drugs from being re-exported to wealthy nations (Rodgers, Dow Jones International News, 4/9). BBC News reports that the meeting is the first between health and trade officials on "what is fast becoming a key development issue."
Seeking a 'Win-Win' Situation
Although some pharmaceutical companies have recently lowered prices on AIDS drugs in Africa, the Norway conference will examine "whether all essential drugs should be offered at lower prices in poorer countries" (BBC News, 4/8). The WTO and WHO seek a "win-win situation that would benefit everyone involved," although "few believe" drug giants will "yield much ground in what promises to be a vastly complex argument over drug pricing and patents." WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland said she wants companies and governments to "drastically reduce the burden on developing countries" and recommends partnerships similar to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, which has successfully "harness[ed] substantial private funds" (Dow Jones International News, 4/9). But the drug industry has said that "differential pricing" of drugs "can only work if companies are permitted to remain competitive and are not subject to rigid and systematic rules," and it places greater emphasis on drug financing. International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations chief Harvey Bale said governments must improve health service funding to ensure drugs get to those in need (BBC News, 4/8). Bill Fullagar, president of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, added, "The pharmaceutical industry can't be a health service of the world," noting that increasing drug access is dependent upon governments improving the infrastructure and staffing of national health services (Dow Jones International News, 4/9).