On the occasion of the annual G8 summits every year, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) urges G8 countries to uphold past commitments and mobilise additional political will and financial resources to improve access to essential medicines in developing countries.
A few examples of why health should be on the agenda:
6.5 million people living with HIV/AIDS need antiretroviral (ARV) treatment in developing countries today, but only one million are receiving it. India’s new patent regime is likely to close off the availability of affordable generic versions of new medicines. Today, pharmaceutical innovation is skewed towards making profits in the West, leaving huge health needs unmet.
The consequences are most dramatic in developing countries:
Despite tuberculosis killing two million people each year, existing drugs and diagnostics are antiquated and are not being replaced:
- The main diagnostic test for active tuberculosis (sputum smear microscopy for acid-fast bacilli) was developed in 1882; it fails to detect 40-55% of those who have active TB and is unable to detect TB in most HIV/TB co-infected patients and children.
- The bulk of the drugs presently used against TB were developed before the 1950s and patients must spend six to eight months under treatment.
- Despite 95% of the 38 million people with HIV/AIDS living in low and middle-income countries, the research and development for HIV/AIDS is almost exclusively directed at patients in high income countries.
- 1400 children die each day of AIDS. We do not have paediatric formulations in tablet form or fixed-dose combination treatments to effectively treat children. The few formulations that do exist are costly and difficult to administer.|
- There seems to be no identifiable progress towards finding a therapeutic vaccine which can cure AIDS.
- Despite sleeping sickness affecting 33 African countries with a joint population of 60 million, the fatal disease barely registers on the world’s health R&D agenda:
- Sleeping sickness drugs are toxic or poorly adapted to resource-poor settings: melarsoprol is arsenic-based and kills one in 20 patients; eflornithine is complex to administer, requiring slow drug infusions every six hours for 14 days.
The G8 should:
- Ensure access to affordable medicines of proven efficacy. This means supporting the production of generic versions of essential medicines, which will only be possible if the Doha declaration on TRIPS and Public health is fully respected. It will also mean encouraging those countries who do have drug production capacity not to abandon this field and start production of affordable versions of newer medicines under compulsory license. Finally, it requires that governments, not patients, pay the end cost of the medicines.
- Take action to ensure medical innovation that addresses the health needs of the poor. This will require political leadership in defining research priorities, ensuring sustained financial support, and reducing patent and regulatory barriers to increasing essential R&D activities.
- Increase funding for health in the developing world so that the ambitious disease targets set in the 2000 G8 summit in Okinawa are translated into effective medicines reaching those in greatest need.