Ministers put lives at stake in trade-off

MSF calls for Sydney trade ministers' meeting to ensure access to affordable generic medicines.
Sydney/Geneva, 13 November 13, 2002 - The international medical aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warns that World Trade Organization delegates to the Informal Ministerial Meeting in Sydney, Australia, must not compromise public health in pursuit of industrialised country priorities. In particular, MSF urges WTO Members to remove the restrictions on export of generic medicines. The Sydney meeting comes just one year after the WTO ministerial meeting in Doha, Qatar, where countries reinforced the priority of public health over patents. "On the anniversary of Doha, the trade ministers' meeting in Sydney is at risk of compromising these principles," says Ellen 't Hoen of the MSF Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. "We fear that policy options which place significant barriers to access of generic medicines by developing countries will be promoted." Infectious diseases kill 15 million people each year. More than 36 million people living with HIV/AIDS do not have access to the drugs they need, most of whom live in developing countries. One of the main barriers to access to medicines in these countries is price. Quality generic medicines generally cost less than brand-name equivalents, allowing more people to access treatment. Under the WTO's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement, developing countries with no pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity are allowed to import generic drugs to meet health needs. Paradoxically, generic producers are currently restricted in exporting these drugs. Developing countries and international non-governmental organisations such as MSF believe that the removal of these export restrictions on generic producers is a simple, effective solution that balances public health demands and intellectual property protection in the spirit of the 2001 Doha meeting. "Delegates to the Informal Ministerial Meeting must support a permanent workable solution which removes restrictions on the export of generics, rather than pursue quick-fix policies that will put access to medicines at risk," says Ellen 't Hoen. Expedient trade deals must not come at the expense of human lives.