Letter |

MSF Letter to the G8 Delegations


Letter to the G8 delegations prior to the Genoa summit, regarding access to affordable drugs, and research for neglected diseases.

The following letter was sent to the US, Canada, Japan, UK, Germany, Italy, France and Russia delegations to the G8.

From 20 to 22 July the meeting of the Group of Eight (G8) leaders in Genoa, Italy, will represent an important opportunity for the world’s wealthiest nations to concretely address major communicable diseases that disproportionately affect the poor, in particular HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. This opportunity must not be missed.

At this critical moment, following the G8 meeting in Okinawa last July, the subsequent G8 conference on infectious diseases in Okinawa last December, and the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS (UNGASS) in New York this June, it is crucial that the political momentum to fight major infectious diseases translates into immediate improvements for those most in need.

Tangible progress must be made on a number of fronts. In this respect, it is encouraging that a global consensus is emerging, which is consistent with what MSF knows from our medical field work. There can be no choice between prevention and treatment; they are mutually reinforcing. Also, for many neglected diseases where existing tools are either ineffective or non-existent, improving health will require a major effort to discover and develop new drugs and vaccines.

When effective drugs are available, there is also a growing consensus that, although weak health systems in some areas present a formidable challenge in the implementation of treatment programs, particularly for HIV/AIDS, they do not justify denying or delaying access to life-saving medicines to people who need them. Operational research must be expanded in order to simplify and adapt treatment and prevention strategies to resource-poor settings.

Despite recent initiatives, the unaffordable prices of existing medicines remains a significant barrier to access. However, the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS that was adopted by all member states at UNGASS offers clear recognition that the high cost of medicines must be addressed at all levels.

At the special session on access to medicines of the TRIPS Council meeting that took place on June 20, WTO members drew attention to the adverse effects of intellectual property protection on access to medicines. A consensus emerged about the need to ensure that intellectual property rights do not stand in the way of access to essential medicines in developing countries, and to encourage developing countries to make full use of existing legal safeguards to address critical public health issues.

The interpretation of TRIPS is particularly critical as additional funds are being allocated to fight infectious diseases. If the rules of funding mechanisms are too restrictive the reach of new efforts will be limited.

Prices of medicines and other essential health care goods will have a profound impact on the reach of funding efforts. Antiretroviral drugs provide a good example. If the mid-term objective is to put five million patients on treatment in developing countries, the cost of drugs alone would be US$5 billion at the current price of $1,000 per patient per year in the UNAIDS Accelerating Access Initiative. If, through a system of equitable pricing, the per patient cost went down to US$200, the cost to treat the same number of patients would be US$1 billion per year. The savings could be used to increase the number of patients who could receive access to treatment and to invest in other important components of care and prevention.

Offering financial assistance to countries that will not be able to shoulder the entire financial burden of scaling up AIDS, TB, and malaria efforts is a necessary and vital component of an expanded global response to fighting infectious diseases. Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General, with the support of WHO and UNAIDS, has estimated that developing countries will need between $7-10 billion annually to fight AIDS alone.

But how this money will be used is now the critical question.

In order to ensure that international funding mechanisms, including the proposed Global Health Fund, can offer treatment to the highest number of people with HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB, it is essential that funds be available for the purchase of medicines and medical technologies at the lowest possible cost.

The European Union countries have formulated a common position on the need to link international funding mechanisms to requirements of a system of tiered pricing with full price transparency, to procure through international tender and to ensure that money is untied so the lowest cost medicines and related technologies can indeed be accessed.

We urge you at the upcoming G8 meeting to support this well thought out European Union position.

In addition, the EU common position supports the use of TRIPS safeguards. The EC has stated that contributions to the Global Health Fund will be made only if conditions for a tiered pricing system are met. European Commissioner Nielson has said at the Conference for least – developed countries in May this year that “the global fund cannot succeed and will not get our support without a commitment by the industry to a global tiered pricing system.”

More specifically, in Genoa we urge you to support strategies that ensure the availability of the lowest cost medicines and other health-related goods including:

  • Stimulating generic competition, encouraging a differential (or tiered) pricing system and creating economies of scale through regional or global procurement
  • Encouraging local production through voluntary licensing and technology transfer in countries with domestic drug manufacturing capacity
  • Using TRIPS safeguards (compulsory licensing, parallel imports, and Bolar provisions) through national legislation
  • Encouraging purchasing of medicines from lowest cost suppliers, including generic companies, to maximise the use of the available financial resources. Intellectual property barriers need to be overcome by using exemptions to patent rights
  • Implementing health exceptions to patent rights for goods purchased with financing from internationally organised global funds
  • Creating a database of information on drug prices, quality, and patent status to help guide decisions of country purchases

It is essential that a long-term sustainable solution to the crisis of the lack of access to medicines be developed—not one that relies on the good will of pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily offer discounts on certain medicines. Though such price reductions are important, they are not enough. The mutually supportive strategies outlined above will be important elements of an effective framework for guaranteeing access to essential medicines, even for the most vulnerable populations in the poorest countries. Your leadership will be key to a successful global response to HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and other less visible diseases. We hope that you will make addressing the needs of millions of people affected by major infectious diseases in the developing world a priority.

We understand that OXFAM is writing to you with a similar request.