WTO Agreement Over Generic Drug Access May Not Ensure Immediate Availability of Drugs
Although a World Trade Organization deal on the importation of generic versions of patented drugs goes into effect immediately, it does not ensure that generic drugs -- including antiretroviral medicines -- will be delivered to developing countries in the near future, according to aid agencies, BBC News reports (Dunne, BBC News, 9/7). WTO talks on generic drug access for poor nations had been stalled since Dec. 31, 2002, when members missed a deadline to reach an agreement. However, negotiators on Aug. 30 reached an agreement allowing countries to issue a "compulsory license" to import generic drugs if the country confirms that it cannot domestically manufacture the drugs itself (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/5). The resolution of the drug issue is seen as a victory ahead of a five-day WTO meeting that is scheduled to start tomorrow in Cancun, Mexico, the Los Angeles Times reports (Iritani, Los Angeles Times, 9/7). However, many groups fear that the deal could get "tangled in red tape" and that the generic pharmaceutical industry is not "overly excited" about supplying generic drugs to countries in need, according to BBC News (BBC News, 9/7).
Even if the drug access agreement works as intended, which is "in doubt," it will "go only so far to help the millions of poor people who lack access to new drugs and decent medical care," an Economist editorial says. While competition from generic drug companies can help to push the price of drugs down, tariffs on drug imports and uncoordinated purchasing and distribution systems can push drug prices back up, the editorial says. These issues "need to be addressed with as much passion as countries have brought to the argument about drug patents -- a quarrel which has been more about ideology than the practicalities of delivering life-saving drugs to people in need," the editorial says. In addition, the deal should not be seen as a substitute for other efforts to improve drug access, such as global price discounts, donations from pharmaceutical companies and voluntary product licensing, the Economist says, concluding that rich countries must keep their promises to increase funding for efforts to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria in order to help finance drug programs (Economist, 9/6).
Minneapolis Star Tribune Editorial
While the WTO has "at last ... done right by the world's poor," drug access is "only one critical concern" in improving health care in the developing world, a Minneapolis Star Tribune editorial says. Access to drugs "isn't a matter of abstract fairness" but a "practical answer to the horrific medical statistics with which poor countries grapple," the editorial says. However, it is not the whole answer because a lack of medical infrastructure to deliver the medications poses "just as worrisome" a problem, the Star Tribune says. Improving health care in developing countries will therefore require partnerships "between the world's wealthy nations and their not-so-healthy neighbors," the editorial concludes (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 9/9).