G8 window dresses while poor die from lack of medicines

Genoa, Italy, July 21, 2001 - The G8 governments and the UN Secretary-General announced the constitution of a global health fund designed to tackle infectious diseases in developing countries. More money and new money are needed in the fight against diseases of the poor, but the amount committed is nowhere near what is required. Pledges to the fund, currently at $1.2 billion, are shamefully low. Governments call upon multinationals and the private sector to contribute. Among these are the pharmaceutical companies whose pricing policies are a fundamental part of the problem. The G8 governments have been preparing a global health fund for a year. In that time, 14 million people will have died from infectious and parasitic disease; 90% of these deaths will have occurred in developing countries. "There are serious organisational concerns with the fund. There is still no clear statement regarding who makes the decisions, on what the funds are to be spent, and no policy to ensure that the fund will be used to purchase medicines at the lowest possible cost," says Ellen 't Hoen from the medical aid organisation M&eaacute;decins Sans Frontiè:res. "Without these basic commitments, it will be a long time before the fund contributes to saving lives. In its current state, it is little more than window dressing." The crisis of lack of access to essential medicines faced by developing countries is much greater than can be solved by a global fund. A fundamental change in the medicines market is needed, embracing multiple strategies that will lead to equitable drug prices. Such strategies should include:
  • a flexible interpretation of the WTO agreements on intellectual property to ensure that pharmaceutical patents do not stand in the way of producing and purchasing affordable medicines
  • the promotion of the production and use of generic medicines
  • a tiered pricing system to ensure that medicines in developing countries are affordable
  • public investment in research and development for neglected diseases. "The richest countries of the world refuse to address more fundamental solutions to the access to medicines crisis," says Ellen 't Hoen. "The current fund makes the richest countries look good, but will have very little impact on the lives and health of people.