Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust Chair Donna Christian-Christensen Encourages Leaders To Use WHO in WTO’s Doha Talks
Del. Donna Christian-Christensen (D-Virgin Islands), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust, on Jan. 20 sent a letter "urg[ing]" acceptance of a European Union proposal suggesting that the World Health Organization intervene to break up deadlock in World Trade Organization negotiations about how to allow low-income nations better access to drugs, including antiretroviral medicines to treat HIV/AIDS. "I echo the statements of E.U. Commissioner Pascal Lamy, that the WHO is a 'trusted third party.' It may be the only such party that 'could break the deadlock' that is keeping badly needed treatment from the millions in need of it," Christensen writes in the letter, which is addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Lamy, the WHO and the WTO (Christensen letter, 1/20). The European Union on Jan. 9 proposed that WHO serve as an objective third party in an attempt to stop the "impasse" in negotiations among 144 WTO members about how to improve developing nations' access to drugs used to fight public health crises, including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. 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. The United States has maintained that lower-income nations should only be able to 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 import generic versions of 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, 1/10). Christensen writes, "To date, drug companies' initiatives designed to deliver medications to the developing world have been unsustainable, stop-gap measures. Certainly, the complexities related to Doha, U.S. trade policy and ensuring health [in] developing nations are great. ... Having WHO as an intermediary will ensure that these issues are addressed and that the effort to save lives remains paramount" (Christensen letter, 1/20).
Lancet Editorial Endorses E.U. Proposal
In related news, an editorial published in the Jan. 25 edition of the Lancet states that in the WTO Geneva talks scheduled for Feb. 10-11, "Lamy's proposal should be given serious consideration ... as an alternative to compulsory licensing." The editorial also encourages "out-licensing," or granting voluntary licenses to permit drug makers who agree to distribute medications to the poor to manufacture generic versions of patented drugs. "It would be refreshing if public health needs were put ahead of all others at the February WTO meeting," the Lancet concludes (Lancet, 1/25).