New Working Group Launches at European Parliament with MSF support

27 January 2010 - With support from the MSF Access Campaign, a new group has been set up at the European Parliament that aims to both raise the profile of poverty-related diseases and influence EU institutions so as to improve access to medicines for people in developing countries. 
The Working Group on Innovation, Access to Medicines and Poverty-Related Diseases is composed of a group of Members of the European Parliament who have a track record of actively supporting access and innovation issues and by MSF’s Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines and Global Health Advocates. The group aims to create a dialogue on these issues among various actors - policy makers, civil society, academics, and representatives of international organisations - in order to ensure that the European Union delivers a coherent, comprehensive and pro-active response to address the need for innovation, access to medicines and quality healthcare for poverty-related diseases.
David Martin, MEP, who chairs the group explained at the group’s launch the need for the EU to improve its policies and initiatives and ensure coherence: “On the one hand the EU spends a lot tackling cancer, HIV, TB in the developing world. But on the other hand some of those policies make it difficult to deliver those drugs. So we will work together in the trade, environment, health and development committees to bring coherence to these policies and help deliver appropriate medicines at appropriate prices to the developing world.”
EU policies can have a direct impact on access to medicines.  Recently, for example, EU customs officials have seized legitimate generic drugs in what amounts to a misuse of the Commission’s rules against counterfeiting and trade in fake goods. David Martin laid out one of the priorities for the group as the need to make a clear distinction between the fight against counterfeits and obstacles to legitimate trade in life-saving generic medicines.
Group members also emphasised their intent to hold the EU accountable in its declared commitment to uphold the flexibilities in international trade laws so that  countries can access appropriate medication.
In regard to medical innovation, Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer, Executive Director of MSF’s Access Campaign, said the EU also had a key role to play in medical innovation: “The EU has a very important role - as a financer on one hand but also to help really prioritising what are the key public health needs today and to support the work that is happening at the World Health Organization in really moving forward and establishing new mechanisms to finance this kind of research and development”.
These new mechanisms to finance medical research and development include innovative, cutting-edge solutions, such as proposals for prize funds and support for UNITAID’s patent pool for HIV medicines.
Summing up the immediate agenda for the group, David Martin laid out three main aims; to improve the information that thousands of people die of treatable diseases, to ensure that the EU trade agreements do not distort medicine prices so that people can access to more affordable medicines and to boost the EU research budget’s contributions to  research into medical tools for poverty-related diseases.
Paul Thorn, Project Director of the Tuberculosis Survival project, and a former TB patient himself, reflecting on the slogan of the new group - ‘Putting Patients’ Needs First’ - said he hoped that the new group would serve as a conduit between grassroots – the patients -  and what happens in the corridors of the European Parliament in order to make a difference.
The launch in Brussels was attended by representatives of the European Commission, the World Health Organization, civil society, the pharmaceutical industry and delegates from developing countries.
The Brussels event was organised by the Secretariat of the group, Médecins sans Frontières’ Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines and Global Health Advocates and was hosted by David Martin.

The group will hold quarterly meetings in which to discuss specific issues related to access and innovation.
The Working Group’s Bureau:
•    CHAIR: David Martin MEP (S&D, UK)                  
•    VICE-CHAIR: Kader Arif MEP (S&D, FR)                       
•    VICE-CHAIR: Niccolo Rinaldi MEP (ALDE, IT)                 
•    VICE-CHAIR: Carl Schlyter MEP (Greens/EFA, SE)         
•    VICE-CHAIR: Eleni Theocharous MEP (EPP, CY)            
The Working Group’s Secretariat:
•    Médecins Sans Frontières’ Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines
•    Global Health Advocates
The Working Group is open to MEPs, academics, representatives from the European Commission, international organisations, and civil society.
For more information about the working group and/or to become member, please contact the secretariat at this address ep-accessgroup@msf.org
Page updated: 27 January 2010
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