In December 2002, and after one year of negotiations, the WTO failed to reach a solution in the controversy over access to generic drugs in developing countries. This in spite of the objective clearly set during the WTO conference in Doha in November 2001, and in spite of numerous international agreements signed by WTO members declaring access to the highest attainable standard of health care a fundamental human right.
What is the final result of it all ? During this year 15 million people have died of treatable infectious diseases, more than 3 million people have died from AIDS in the absence of any access to treatments.
Generic drugs are essential for medicines to be affordable drugs in developing countries, where people cannot pay the prohibitive prices imposed on the international market by the giant pharmaceutical corporations.
It has been shown that the indiscriminate implementation of intellectual property rules prevalent in developed countries is inappropriate for these developing countries, and has a detrimental impact on their populations. Concerning health care, multinational corporations do not need the markets of countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Carribean to recoup the research and development costs and make huge profits. Nevertheless, their monopoly continues to kill people.
The dramatic collapse of the WTO negotiations on export of generics can easily be explained. For a whole year a number of rich countries had only one objective : to renege on the Doha principle that public health has precedence over commercial interests.
The WTO has proved unable to guarantee fair negotiations which serve not only the interests of private companies, but also those of the member states of the organization. It has also proved unable to interpret TRIPS agreement (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) in any way that would take any interests except commercial interests into account.
At the WTO, the US and the EU resorted to all possible forms of pressure and intimidation to force developing countries to accept an agreement totally inadequate to address the public health of their populations. Moreover, regardless of the existence of multilateral bodies where all states are supposed to be representated, the US is trying, through bilateral (Morocco, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala) and regional (FTAA) agreements, to impose its hegemonic regime of intellectual property rules everywhere in the world.
As rich countries have refused to think seriously about the public health issue and to get seriously involved in negotiations, they have shown that the system they have chosen to impose on the rest of the world is ineffective and dangerous.
However another world is possible, a world where people can have access to essential medicines. Pharmaceutical corporations accumulate huge profits in the market of rich countries. In the meanwhile developing countries can expand South-South markets and technology sharing in order to manufacture or import copies of any health product they need for their populations.
The unresolved question of generic access represents two enormous crisis : one of international public health with millions more who will die unnecessery, and one of international trade relations. These crisis together threaten to further exacerbate division between North and South and to increase political tensions globally.
The next stage on the « road to Cancun » will be the WTO General Council in Geneva on February 10 & 11. There, developing countries, and especially the Brasil of President Lula, must take the opportunity to change the rules. But if no solution can be found within the WTO, then the only way to enforce the human rights to health and to life is through the massive production and dissemination of copies of patented drugs for all the world’s people who need them.
Joint press statement from Action Aid (Brazil), Act Up-Paris (France), Aids Access Foundation (Thailand), ALCS (Morocco), Articulaçao de Mulheres Brasileiras (Brazil), GAPA RS (Brazil), Gestos (Brazil), Laccaso (Venezuela), MSF (Brazil), Oxfam (UK), SOS CORPO (Brazil), Stop Aids Now (Netherlands), VANMPAVIH (Mexico).
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