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PLEASE JOIN IN THE NGO STATEMENT: ‘PATENTS AND MEDICINES: THE WTO MUST ACT NOW!’

This is a letter introducing a Joint NGO Statement on Patents and Medicines, and requesting you to consider signing on to it.  We would be grateful if you would send a reply as soon as possible, as we plan to launch the statement before the 20th of June.

As you may be aware, the WTO TRIPS Council will hold a Special Discussion on patents and access to medicines on 20 June this year. The Africa Group of countries in the WTO asked the TRIPS Council in April to hold a meeting specifically to address rising concerns over the impact of the TRIPS Agreement on the price and affordability of medicines.

The Africa Group proposal reflects the concerns of developing countries, as well as public outrage over the exorbitant prices of patented medicines, many of which are needed to treat life-threatening diseases. The HIV/AIDS epidemic has put the spotlight on the high price of patented drug treatments, which is putting them out of reach of the majority of HIV/AIDS sufferers in the developing world. But the problem extends beyond HIV/AIDS. There are other examples of new vitally-needed medicines which are becoming unaffordable because the pharmaceutical multinational corporations, which own or control patents on these medicines, have been able to block competition from other lower-cost generic producers.

Disturbing examples of the effects of patents on the price of medicines include:

 

·        Prices of branded, patented products are often far higher than the prices of similar medicines produced by alternative or generic sources. For example, the Indian generic producer, Cipla, is able to offer its AIDS combination medicines for US$150-300 per year per patient, compared with the US$10,000-15,000 being sold by the MNCs.

·        In countries where alternative or generic medicines are available, the price of a branded product usually falls as a result of the competition it faces from low-priced alternatives. When the Brazilian government began producing AIDS drugs generically, for example, the prices of equivalent branded products dropped by 79 per cent. The same brand is sold at a higher price in countries where there is no competition from generic producers.

Pharmaceutical companies enjoy effective monopolies on their products, protected and maintained by patent rights, which allows them to determine the price of medicines. These patent rights are now being extended around the world under the provisions of the TRIPS Agreement. There is grave concern that implementation of the Agreement will further reduce access by millions of people in developing countries to life-saving medicines.

Legal experts agree that the existing TRIPS provisions on compulsory licensing and parallel importation will help developing countries to produce or buy drugs at more affordable prices. Despite this, obstacles have been placed in the way of developing countries seeking to apply these provisions. Some developed countries and pharmaceutical companies have sought to restrict the use by developing countries of compulsory licensing and parallel importing measures. Two examples of this are the drug companies' court case against South Africa, and the US case against Brazil in the WTO. This is a most disturbing aspect of the crisis of patents and drugs.

The TRIPS Special Discussion on patents and drugs is timely, and WTO member countries must use the opportunity to address the issues raised above. It is crucial that civil society groups and NGOs around the world watch closely the proceedings of the Special Session, and demand proper consideration and resolution of the negative effects of patents on the level of access to affordable medicines. They should take this opportunity to make clear to governments and pharmaceutical companies that their actions are being monitored.

Therefore, we urge you to lend your organisation’s support to the Statement below, which lists demands for the clarification and revision of the TRIPS Agreement. These proposals are designed to ensure that developing countries will be able to strengthen the access of their citizens to affordable medicines, and to put the public interests of health and nutrition over and above the protection of private rights and commercial interests. We also ask you to disseminate this Statement to others, and to use it in your campaigns.

As part of the campaign on patents and drugs, we plan to hold a press conference in Geneva shortly before the June 20th Special Session. The objective of the press conference will be to highlight civil society’s concerns about the TRIPS Agreement and access to affordable medicines. We hope to launch this statement at the press conference.

With best wishes,

Cecilia Oh, Third World Network

Ruth Mayne, Oxfam

For more information on this Statement or to sign on, please contact:

Cecilia Oh, Third World Network
Tel: +604 2266159
Fax: +604 2264505
twnet@po.jaring.my

Liz Leaver Oxfam GB
Tel: (0)1865 313446
Fax: (0)1865 313133
lleaver@oxfam.org.uk

The NGO Statement is also posted on the Third World Network website: www.twnside.org.sg, and on the Oxfam website: www.oxfam.org.uk



PATENTS AND MEDICINES: THE WTO MUST ACT NOW!

Joint NGO Statement on the Special Discussion in the WTO TRIPS Council on Patents and Access to Affordable Medicines.

The deepening health crisis in many developing countries has raised public concern about the lack of access of poor people to affordable medicines. Public outrage over the exorbitant prices of HIV/AIDS drugs has also put the spotlight on the negative effects of global patent rules on the price and affordability of essential and vitally-needed medicines. Each year about 11 million people die from preventable infectious diseases. The AIDS epidemic is claiming millions of lives, to the extent that in some countries over a quarter of the population is affected. 

Around the world, public concern is mounting at how the introduction of strict patent regimes in developing countries required by the WTO’s TRIPS Agreement is causing the price of patented drugs to be set at high, often exorbitant levels. The effective monopolies granted by TRIPS allow pharmaceutical giants to suppress competition from alternative, low-cost producers and to charge prices far above what is reasonable. This is done at the expense of many ordinary consumers who are too poor to afford treatment.

Before the establishment of the TRIPS Agreement in 1994, countries were allowed more options to exclude sectors from patent rules in their national laws. Approximately 50 countries (both developed and developing) excluded pharmaceutical products from patenting. However, with the implementation of the TRIPS Agreement, member countries are no longer allowed to do this. 

The Agreement does allow member countries to take compensatory measures to counter the effective monopolies of companies owning patents. Two of the most important measures are the issuing of compulsory licences, whereby a government can give permission to other parties to produce or import products on which patents had been given without the permission of the patent holder, and the practice of parallel imports. Since TRIPS does not limit the grounds on which compulsory licences can be given, a country should not be prevented from issuing compulsory licenses on other grounds that it may consider necessary to meet public health and other public interest objectives.

However, pressures have been put on many developing countries by governments and companies in some developed countries not to exercise their rights to compulsory licensing or parallel importation. Recent examples of harassment faced by developing countries include the case brought by 39 pharmaceutical companies against the South African government over its Medicines and Related Substances Control Amendment Act, and the dispute settlement case lodged by the USA against Brazil in the WTO in relation to its Industrial Property Law. People everywhere, in developing and developed countries, are outraged at these kinds of pressures imposed on poor countries to prevent them from using the flexibility of TRIPS to improve the access of ordinary people, particularly the poorest, to medicines.

Growing public reaction to the scandal of patents and high medicine prices provides the background to a one-day Special Discussion on patents and access to medicines, which will be held by the TRIPS Council at the WTO in Geneva on 20 June. This special discussion was proposed by the Africa Group of countries in the WTO and supported by many others.

We, the undersigned NGOs, welcome this decision and regard the Special Discussion as an important opportunity for the urgent consideration and resolution of the negative impacts of the TRIPS Agreement on health and access to medicines.

In agreeing to the Special Discussion, WTO member countries have taken the first step towards clarifying the role of intellectual property rights and interpreting the TRIPS Agreement in such a way that intellectual property protection does not hinder access to vitally needed medicines. This meeting represents an opportunity to shift the balance of global patent rules in favour of the public interest and the protection of public health.

In developing countries, the TRIPS Agreement has exacerbated conflicts between private corporate interests, and the public interest including public health. The controversy over access to medicines has highlighted just one aspect of the imbalances within the TRIPS Agreement, which is too heavily tilted in favour of private right holders and against the public interest. There is growing evidence of social and economic problems caused by the introduction and enforcement of stricter intellectual property rights, which developing countries are obliged to implement as part of their obligations under TRIPS. This has resulted in calls for a re-assessment of the Agreement itself.

The key principle that should guide the discussions in the WTO is that access to essential and vitally-needed medicines is a fundamental human right. Poor people have the right to good health, and therefore to medicines for the treatment of poverty-related diseases. Protecting people’s health and saving their lives must take precedence over the strict protection of intellectual property and the very high profits which drug companies derive from this. Governments need a permanent guarantee that they can put public health and the welfare of their citizens before patent rights, without having to face the kind of legal pressures or threat of trade sanctions experienced by South Africa and Brazil.

We therefore call on WTO member countries, during the Special Discussion, to:

·        Strengthen the existing public-health safeguards within TRIPS to ensure that governments have the unambiguous right to override patents in the interests of public health;

·        Adopt a pro-public health interpretation of the Agreement through the flexible use of existing safeguards and exceptions. These include upholding the right of countries to grant compulsory licences for local manufacturing, import and export, and their right to implement parallel importation measures;

·        Remove the burdensome conditions that governments have to fulfil in the issuing of compulsory licences, so that licences can be granted on a ‘fast track’ basis for public-health purposes;

·        Extend the implementation deadlines within TRIPS for developing countries in relation to patent protection (both product and process) for medicines;

·        Agree not to exert bilateral or regional pressure on developing countries which take measures to exercise their rights under TRIPS to protect public health and promote access to medicines, nor to pressure them to implement unnecessarily strict and potentially harmful intellectual property protection standards or ‘TRIPS-plus’ measures.

·        Observe, with immediate effect, a moratorium on dispute settlement action against developing countries which hinders their ability to promote access to medicines and protect public health (including the use of compulsory licence and parallel importation measures).

·        Allow developing countries the option of excluding medicines from patenting on humanitarian or public-health grounds, in order to meet the objectives of saving lives, countering and controlling epidemics, and ensuring that the poor obtain access to essential medicines for the treatment of poverty-related diseases.

The NGOs signing this statement will use the above recommendations as the yardstick to judge the decisions and actions taken by the WTO TRIPS Council and higher bodies of the WTO, and whether the process initiated by the Special Discussion on TRIPS and medicines has been a success or a failure. 

People all over the world will be watching whether WTO member countries meet the challenge of tackling the global health crisis, and demonstrate their commitment and contribution to the prevention of further unnecessary deaths.

We also call on governments in developed countries not to be influenced by any attempts by multinational drug companies to block clarifications of, or changes to, the TRIPS Agreement which are needed to make medicines affordable to the poor. We also call on the governments of developing countries to stand firm in putting forward proposals that affirm and strengthen their rights under TRIPS (especially in relation to compulsory licensing and parallel importation). Discussions on schemes such as ‘differential pricing’, or a global fund for AIDS, should not distract from, or be a substitute for, the need for action on patents and the TRIPS Agreement.

This statement is signed and endorsed by the following organisations:

For more information on this Statement or to sign on, please contact:

Cecilia Oh, Third World Network
Tel: +604 2266159
Fax: +604 2264505
twnet@po.jaring.my

Liz Leaver, Oxfam GB
Tel: (0)1865 313446
Fax: (0)1865 313133
lleaver@oxfam.org.uk

This Statement is also posted on the Third World Network website: www.twnside.org.sg, and on the Oxfam website: www.oxfam.org.uk

 

This statement is signed and endorsed by the following organisations:

ACT UP/East Bay, Oakland, USA
Act Up-Paris
ActionAid
Active Consumers Denmark
Ad Hoc Group on Biodiversity, Colombia
Africa and Europe Faith and Justice Network Holland, The Netherlands
Africa Resources Trust, Zimbabwe
Africa-Europe Faith and Justice Network (AEFJN), Belgium
African Evangelistic Enterprise
AID/WATCH, Australia
Alternative Information & Development Centre (AIDC), Republic South Africa
Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM), Malaysia
Arab Resources Collective, Lebanon
Australian Council for Overseas Aid (ACFOA)
Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union
Baby Milk Action, UK
Berne Declaration, Switzerland
Both Ends, The Netherlands
Brazilian National Network of PLWA, San Jose do Rio Preto, Brazil
BUKO Pharma-Kampagne (German Federal Congress of Development Action Groups), Germany
Canadian Action Party, Canada
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Canada
Center for Peace Initiative (CENPEACE), Malaysia
Centres for International Cooperation (COS Nederland), The Netherlands
Centro de Debate y Accion Ambiental, Colombia
Chini Smallholders Network (CISNET), Malaysia
Church Development Service, Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst (EED), Germany
Comboni Missionaries, Italy
Comhlámh: the Irish Association of Development Workers
Community AIDS Service Penang (CASP), Malaysia
Consumer Unity & Trust Society (CUTS), India
Consumers International Regional Office for Africa, Zimbabwe
Consumers' Association of Penang (CAP), Malaysia
Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), Fiji
Development Workers in Global Solidarity, Ireland
Drug Study Group (DSG), Thailand
Earth Charter International
Economic Reform, Australia
ECOROPA
Environmental Protection Club of Latvia, Latvia
Equations, Bangalore, India
Family Planning Association (FPA), Penang, Malaysia
Farmacie Mondiaal and Farmond Foundation, The Netherlands
Federation of Indonesian Peasant Union, Indonesia
FOE Bangladesh, Bangladesh
FOE England, Wales and N.Ireland
FOE France, France
FOE Middle East
FOE Nigeria, Nigeria
FOE Sweden, Sweden
Forum Syd, Stockholm
Friends of the Earth Australia
Friends of the Earth Costa Rica
Fundación Sociedades Sustentables
Fundacion Solon, Bolivia
GAPURMED (Argentinian group for the Rational Use of Drugs), Argentina
Gene Campaign, India
Geneva Infant Feeding Association (GIFA), Switzerland
Groundwork, Republic of South Africa
Grupo Pela Vidda, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Health Action International
IBIS Denmark
IBON Foundation, The Philippines
ILSA, Colombia
Institute Justice Team, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, USA
Institute of Development Studies & Tehcnological Assistance (ELSPPAT), Indonesia
Institute of Political Economy Manila, The Philippines
International Youth Co-ordination Council, Nepal
Isis-Women's International Cross Cultural Exchange (Isis-WICCE), Uganda
Joint Energy and Environment Projects (JEEP), Uganda
K.U.L.U.-Women and Development (KULU), Denmark
Konphalindo, Jakarta, Indonesia
Korean Women Workers Associations United, South Korea
Lokayan, India
Malaysian Sociological Research Institute (MSRI), Malaysia
Medical Mission Sisters, London, UK
Medicus Mundi Switzerland, Switzerland
Middle East Children's Alliance, Berkeley, USA
Milieudefensie (Friends of the Earth Netherlands), The Netherlands
Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa, Kenya
Mobilization Against AIDS International, USA
MSF Access to Essential Medicines Campaign
NiZa (Netherlands Institute for Southern Africa)
NOAH, Denmark
Organic Consumers Association, USA
Oxfam America
Oxfam Canada
Oxfam GB, UK
OXFAM-Solidarity in Belgium, Belgium
Oxfam-Wereldwinkels/Oxfam Fair Trade Flanders, Belgium
Penang Inshore Fishermen's Welfare Association (PIFWA), Malaysia
People's Movement for Economic Justice, Australia
Persatuan Bidan Wilayah Utara, Malaysia
Persatuan Kebajikan Pelajar Islam Malaysia
Persatuan Ulama' Kedah, Malaysia
Planet Africa, France
Public Interest Advocacy Centre, Australia
Public Services International (PSI), France
REDES-Friends of the Earth Uruguay
Réseau Foi et Justice Afrique-Europe, France
Réseau Foi et Justice Afrique-Europe, Suisee
Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM), Malaysia
SOLAGRAL, France
South North Federation, The Netherlands
Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Pakistan
Swedish Consumer Coalition, Sweden
Swiss Coalition of Development Organizations
Tebtebba Foundation (Indigenous Peoples' International Centre for Policy Research and Education), The Philippines
TERAS, Malaysia
The Brazilian Network for the Integration of Peoples (REBRIP), Brazil
The Canadian Enrionmental Law Association, Canada
The Court of Eden, The Netherlands
The Edmonds Institute, USA
The Environment Action Network (TEAN), Uganda
The European Aids Treatment Group (EATG), Germany
The Missionaries of Africa, White Fathers, The Netherlands
The Norwegian Forum for Environment and Development
The Uganda Consumers' Protection Association (UCPA), Uganda
The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), Malaysia
The World Development Movement, UK
Third Work Network, Malaysia
Traditional and Modern Health Practitioners Together Against AIDS and other diseases (THETA), Uganda
Treatment Action Group (TAG), USA
Trócaire,  Ireland
Uganda Environmental Protection Forum (UEPF), Uganda
Uganda Land Alliance, Uganda
Uganda Law Society, Uganda
URFIG (Brussels-Paris-Geneva)
VOICE (Voice of Irish Concern for the Environment)
Washington Biotechnology Action Council, USA
Wemos Foundation, The Netherlands
Women's Crisis Centre (WCC), Penang, Malaysia
Women's International League for Peace, Switzerland
World Economy, Ecology & Development (WEED), Germany
Zimbabwe Trust, Zimbabwe

This statement is signed and endorsed by the following individuals:

Deborah A McFarland, PhD, Professor, Rollins School of Public Health, Emory University, Atlanta, USA
Dr Dwijen Rangnekar, Research Fellow, University College London, UK
Dr Oscar Lanza V (MD, MPH), AIS/HAI Bolivia Coordinator, Bolivia
Elizabeth Nygaard, Olso, Norway
Graham Dutfield, UK
Harriet Rehn, Agriculture Ministry, Sweden
John Hunter, Australia
Jonathan King, Chair, No Patents on Life Committee, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
Jose Carlos Peliano, Brazil
Jose Luis Castro, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Joseph P Foley, C.M., New York, USA
Karin Gregow, Forum Syd, Sweden
Kristina Frobery, Gotebory UN Association, Sweden
Miss Patricia Campos Ustares (Bichem, Pharm.D), Bolivia Committee, CODEDCO, Bolivia
Morten Eriksen, Olso, Norway
Mr Rodrigo Urquieta, FUNAVI, Bolivia
Mulumba Badru Dean
Pat Robb, Cambridge, UK
Prof Philip L Bereano, Seattle, USA
Ruth Ojiambo Ochieng, Kampala, Uganda
Silvia Rodriguez, Heredia, Costa Rica
Steven Stevenson, Melbourne, Australia
Ulf Pettersson, Attac, Sweden
Vice Mayor Maudelle Chirek, Berkeley, USA

Signatories as on Thursday, June 21, 2001 at 12:12 PM

Organizations: 135
Individuals: 24

  

 


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