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Saturday, December 21, 2002

Despite 143 countries wanting cheap generic versions of patented life-saving drugs to be made available in poor countries the US has blocked the implementation of plans agreed in principle at the WTO meeting held in Doha two years ago.

The US + Switzerland, the home of many major pharmaceutical companies, are worried that if patents cannot be protected, companies will not earn enough money to finance research and development of new drugs.

Another major stumbling block is that few poor countries - with the exception of India + Brazil - have the capacity to make their own medicines so negotiations have been bogged down over the question of under what circumstances larger developing countries can export their cheaper medicines to others.

OXFAM have called on rich countries to agree to a meaningful solution that is:

* fair, permanent and permits viable production
* beneficial to all developing countries and covers all diseases
* quick simple and easy to operate
* free from extra WTO obligations on developing countries

Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) also have an Access to Essential Medicines Campaign and say that...

"People caught in the midst of war, famine or major economic crisis - populations in danger - are the hardest hit by "big killer" diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS. These people have limited or no access to treatments."

At present the... "medications needed are too expensive, no longer manufactured, or insufficient research is being conducted. The reason for this is very simple: poor people cannot afford to pay for the medication they require to stay alive."

It is of note how quickly concerns over patent protection and drug cost could be addressed + resolved when the US wanted cheaper access to the powerful antibiotic Cipro (patented by the German company Bayer) on experiencing it's own "national emergency" in the form of last year's anthrax attack in which 5 people died, 2,400 people were treated following exposure to anthrax and stockpiles for 12 million people were acquired in case they were needed).

As an example of the price difference patent protection results in... Cipro costs $350 a month in the US, while generic equivalents cost $10 a month in India.

For the record... 35 million people are expected to die of TB and 68 million people are expected to die of AIDS over the next 20 years.