Doha, Qatar, 9 November 2001 — Agreement on patents and public health could make or break the WTO's meeting in Doha according to agencies Oxfam International, Medecins Sans Frontieres and Third World Network.
The United States government, supported by Japan, Switzerland and Canada, are obstructing developing countries attempts to strengthen health safeguards in the WTO agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
The European Union, which shares some of the concerns of developing countries, has been attempting to broker a consensus among the WTO member states. The EU so far seems to be sitting on the fence. If it really wants to make a difference it has to decide whose side it is on.
"The proposals of developing countries have been largely ignored in the draft declaration presented at Doha. Rich world and drug company lobbying in the WTO is treating the developing world with contempt. Without a fundamental change in rich world attitudes to developing world views a meaningful deal will not be struck at Doha. The least this meeting should do is to endorse the key developing country demand that nothing in the TRIPS agreement shall prevent government from taking measures to protect public health", said Cecilia Oh, Third World Network.
"TRIPS and public health could be the deal that makes or breaks the Doha meeting. We had hoped that the issue of access to the patented anti-anthrax drug, Cipro, would make rich country governments more sensitive to the needs in developing countries. But the latest reports indicate that the US has not budged an inch", said Michael Bailey Senior Policy Advisor, Oxfam.
Some 14 million people die each year of preventable diseases. This death toll could be reduced if low cost drugs were available but TRIPS will prevent poor countries buying low cost drugs. Patented drugs can cost up to 30 times more than low cost generic alternatives.
"Any meaningful declaration on public health and TRIPS should make it unambiguously clear that protecting the health and lives of people is more important than protecting the commercial interests of drug companies. If this meeting fails to act on TRIPS and public health it will become impossible for anyone to maintain the position that TRIPS is a balanced agreement." said Ellen 't Hoen, Medecins Sans Frontieres.