European Union Commissioner Proposes WHO Intervention as Part of Deal To Allow Developing Nations Access to Low-Cost Drugs
The European Union yesterday proposed that the World Health Organization serve as an objective third party in an attempt to stop the "impasse" in negotiations among 144 World Trade Organization members about how to improve developing nations' access to drugs used to fight public health crises, including HIV/AIDS, the AP/Nando Times reports. The United States' position that only certain types of diseases should be covered under the deal "blocked" ambassadors from meeting a self-imposed deadline of Dec. 31, 2002, according to the AP/Nando Times. The negotiations focus on how to allow developing nations to import generic versions of patented drugs to fight diseases such as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. E.U. Commissioner Pascal Lamy said that WHO, a "trusted" third party, could "break the deadlock" in the talks caused by a "lack of trust" between the United States and developing nations (Geitner, AP/Nando Times, 1/9). The United States has maintained that lower-income nations should only be able override patent protection for a limited number of public health epidemics, saying that some nations could use the provisions to produce or import non-essential drugs, such as Viagra. After WTO member nations missed the self-imposed deadline, the United States offered to refrain from challenging countries that export certain patented drugs to fight health epidemics, a position that one anonymous U.S. trade official said is "unlikely" to change (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/8). The European Union called that offer "insufficient" and is preparing a counter proposal for the group's next meeting on Feb. 10, Agence France-Presse reports. "Involving the WHO as a means to get a WTO deal in the weeks ahead will deliver what is most urgently needed: a strong focus on major diseases afflicting the developing world, but offering sufficient flexibility to tackle other public health problems," Lamy said (Joshi, Agence France-Presse, 1/9). The E.U. proposal includes the "widest possible list" of infectious diseases for which WTO members could import generics, but the list would not be restrictive, according to an E.U. release. Instead, nations could ask for "WHO guidance" to determine if health epidemics not on the list would be appropriately covered by the agreement (E.U. release, 1/9). Neither U.S. trade officials nor ambassadors from Brazil and India, which are major exporters of generic drugs, and Kenya, which speaks for African nations, were immediately available to comment on the E.U. offer (AP/Nando Times, 1/9).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.