Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report Summarizes Three Opinion Pieces on WTO Proposal To Import Low-Cost HIV/AIDS Drugs to Developing Countries
Two editorials and one opinion piece recently addressed the World Trade Organization's failure last month to reach an agreement on giving developing countries that do not have the ability to domestically produce medicines the right to import low-cost generic drugs. The United States faced criticism for its position that the deal should apply only to drugs used to treat certain infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/23/02). The negotiations center around the November 2001 Doha declaration, which states that WTO member nations can ignore pharmaceutical patents and domestically produce generic drugs in cases of public health emergencies (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/18/02). Summaries of these opinion pieces appear below:
- The United States' position to only allow exportation of drugs for AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis is "wrong" and "obviously influenced by ... drug companies," a New York Times editorial states. Although American trade representatives argue that taking a "more flexible position" would "reduce incentives to invent new drugs," the Times notes that drug companies "make their profits in rich nations" and they would "not stop work" if poor nations that cannot afford such drugs began to import generics. The Times writes that a Bush administration pledge to not execute trade pressure against countries that export drugs for AIDS or "other poor-country epidemic diseases" is "welcome," but concludes that "it is not a substitute for a flexible position on access to medicines that allows nations to protect public health as they see fit" (New York Times, 1/6).
- Although a "quick fix" to the WTO impasse exists, the only viable long-term solution to the problem is for wealthy nations to grant poor nations the "opportunity to lift themselves out of a vicious cycle of poverty and bad health" by relaxing restrictions to trade and opening markets to developing nations, Carl Bildt, the former prime minister of Sweden, writes in a Wall Street Journal Europe opinion piece. According to Bildt, the "simple answer" to the patent debate would be a waiver system to allow developing nations access to needed drugs during a "major health crisis." However, Bildt notes that such a system is "not a sustainable option," because up to 99% of needed drugs are already available in Africa. Furthermore, it is "poverty, far more than patents" that "stifles progress" against HIV/AIDS in developing nations. Bildt writes that the European Union and the United States continue to impose "massive subsidies and high tariffs" on textiles and agricultural products that prevent developing countries from "competing effectively in the global marketplace." According to Oxfam, an additional 1% share of world trade would result in $70 billion for African nations. If African nations used just 10% of those funds, Bildt estimates, Africa would "have the means to confront its health crisis." Bildt concludes, "A long-term solution will require the U.S. and the E.U. to liberalize their markets and help developing countries onto a path of sustainable growth" (Bildt, Wall Street Journal Europe, 1/6).
- Although "widely blamed" for undermining a World Trade Organization plan to ease access to essential medicines for developing countries, the plan's demise was "not the fault of" U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, as he was "hobbled by huge pressure" from the U.S. pharmaceutical lobby, according to a Financial Times editorial (Financial Times, 1/3). Some representatives of developing countries blamed the United States "for scuttling the accord almost single-handedly" (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 12/23/02). Although U.S. objections to the plan seem "wildly exaggerated," they were "willfully stoked" by India and Brazil, two nations that are "leading generic drugs producers" that "appear motivated more by hopes of commercial gain than by compassion." Regardless, the editorial says that reaching an agreement this year "must be a priority" and that finding a way to do so is possible, "if the political will is there." One such formula is a plan put forth by Democrats in Congress to establish a panel to define which diseases should be covered under the WTO plan. The editorial concludes, "All WTO members, including leading developing countries as well as the U.S., need to show they" are willing to reach an agreement (Financial Times, 1/3).