MSF, Oxfam Call on Wealthy Nations To Adhere to WTO Guidelines To Ensure Drug Access in Developing CountriesMedecins Sans Frontieres and Oxfam on Tuesday called on developed nations to adhere to the World Trade Organization's Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights to ensure universal access to antiretroviral drugs in developing countries, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports (Higgins, AP/International Herald Tribune, 11/14). The TRIPS agreement allows developing countries to issue compulsory licenses to import generic drugs for diseases such as HIV/AIDS if a country confirms that it cannot manufacture them domestically. In addition, governments can approve the domestic production of generic versions of patented drugs during emergency public health situations if they fail to reach an agreement with the patent holder, according to the agreement (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/21). According to MSF, newer antiretrovirals and other drugs are still too expensive for developing countries, despite the TRIPS agreement. Some critics of the agreement have said that the process involved with issuing compulsory licenses is too complicated, preventing generic drug manufacturers from producing less expensive versions of patented drugs. According to an Oxfam report released on Tuesday, the World Health Organization has found that 74% of HIV/AIDS-related medications are still under patent and that 77% of people living in Africa lack access to any antiretrovirals -- primarily because of pressure from wealthy nations on developing countries to comply with patents held by international pharmaceutical companies, according to the report (AP/International Herald Tribune, 11/14). Since the TRIPS agreement was signed in 2001, "rich countries have failed to honor their promises," the report says, adding, "Their record ranges from apathy and inaction to dogged determination to undermine the declaration's spirit and intent. The U.S., at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry, is uniquely guilty of seeking ever higher levels of intellectual property protection in developing countries" (Boseley, Guardian, 11/14).
To address the issue, the production and availability of generic drugs should be increased, and developing countries should increasingly use options available under TRIPS, MSF said. The group also recommended further reform to intellectual property rights to ensure that generic manufacturers can compete with newer drugs developed by pharmaceutical companies (AFP/Yahoo! News, 11/14). "We're seeing many countries make use of the [TRIPS agreement] to import medicines, but what is the use if soon there are no generics to buy?" Tido von Schoen-Angerer, director of MSF's Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines, said, adding, "If this doesn't happen we'll be back where we started in no time because treatment will become unaffordable again" (AP/Finance24, 11/13). The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associates said that inadequate infrastructure and limited resources, and not drug access, is the major issue in developing countries (Hirschler, Reuters UK, 11/14). The Stop AIDS Campaign -- a group of 90 nongovernmental organizations -- has called on the British government to raise the issue at the next summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations. According to the campaign, more than 75% of people in need of antiretrovirals in developing countries do not have access to the drugs, and only 8% of HIV-positive children have access to medication (Guardian, 11/14).