US and EU blocking cheap drugs for developing world


Richard Moore

Original source URL:,,1946998,00.html

Rich countries 'blocking cheap drugs for developing world'
· US and EU have broken Doha pledges, says Oxfam
· Stop Aids claims 75% of HIV patients not treated
Sarah Boseley, health editor
Tuesday November 14, 2006

Poor people are needlessly dying because drug companies and the governments of 
rich countries are blocking the developing world from obtaining affordable 
medicines, a report says today.

Five years to the day after the Doha declaration - a groundbreaking deal to give
poor countries access to cheap drugs - was signed at the World Trade 
Organisation, Oxfam says things are worse.

The charity accuses the US, which champions the interests of its giant 
pharmaceutical companies, of bullying developing countries into not using the 
measures in the Doha declaration and the EU of standing by and doing nothing. 
Doha technically allows poor countries to buy cheap copies of desperately needed
drugs but the US is accused of trying to prevent countries such as Thailand and 
India, which have manufacturing capacity, making and selling cheap generic 
versions so as to preserve the monopolies of the drug giants.

"Rich countries have broken the spirit of the Doha declaration," said Celine 
Charveriat, head of Oxfam's Make Trade Fair campaign. "The declaration said the 
right things but needed political action to work and that hasn't happened. In 
fact, we've actually gone backwards. Many people are dying or suffering 

The Indian generics firms make most of the cheap drug cocktails that are now 
being rolled out to people with HIV in Africa and are keeping more than a 
million people alive. They brought the price of a basic three-drug cocktail down
from $10,000 (£5,250) a year to less than $150 (£79). But new Aids drugs will 
soon be needed because the virus will become resistant to the basic ones now in 
use - as has happened in the EU and the US.

Those newer Aids drugs, together with drugs for cancer and diabetes, are under 
patent. The Oxfam report points out that 4 million people were newly infected 
with HIV in 2005 and cancer and diabetes are expanding faster in developing 
countries than in the richer world.

The report says that, since the signing of the Doha declaration on November 14 
2001, "rich countries have failed to honour their promises. Their record ranges 
from apathy and inaction to dogged determination to undermine the declaration's 
spirit and intent. The US, at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry, is 
uniqely guilty of seeking ever higher levels of intellectual property protection
in developing countries."

The US has pursued its own free trade agreements with developing countries, 
tying them into much tighter observance of patent rights than anticipated at 
Doha. "The USA has also pressured countries for greater patent protection 
through threats of trade sanctions," the report says.

The drugs firms are also fighting to have patents observed. Pfizer is 
challenging the Philippines government in a bid to extend its monopoly on 
Norvasc, a drug pressure drug. Novartis is engaged in litigation in India to 
enforce a patent for Glivec, a cancer drug, which could save many lives if it 
were available at generic prices.

The Stop Aids campaign, a coalition of 90 NGOs of which Oxfam is a member, is 
calling for the government to champion the issue at the G8 summit next year. 
Three-quarters of HIV drugs are still under monopoly and unaffordable in poor 
countries, it said. More than 75% of those who need HIV treatment urgently are 
still not getting it. Only 8% of children with HIV are on drugs, which cost four
times more than those for adults.

"Sadly, promising words have not translated into life-saving treatments and five
years is too long to wait when the stakes are so high," said Steve Cockburn, 
campaign coordinator.

Case study

Premavati, a 60-year-old widow living in Delhi who is suffering from 
non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, has spent around $900 
(£470) on medicines. "My husband died two years ago," says Premavati. "We have 
absolutely no savings. Of my two sons one is a casual labourer, the other has no
job. My daughter is 30, has two children and is also a widow." She is one of 
1.42 billion people in India who cannot afford the drugs they need to save their
lives. Their country is the leading producer of inexpensive generic drugs but 
about 67% of the output is exported, and it is under pressure to stop copying 
new patented drugs. The future looks bleak for Premavati. "How will I raise the 
money for my treatment?" she says, "Already, I've spent what we had. If nobody 
helps I will just go back to my daughter and will have to die without 

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2006

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