Toronto, 19 October 2001 — Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Canada welcomes the flexible interpretation of the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) by the government of Canada to ensure a safe, secure and affordable supply of generic medicine to protect public health against possible effects of anthrax.
MSF hopes the Canadian government will move with similar speed and resolve at the upcoming WTO Ministerial Conference to support the efforts of 60 developing countries to take similar measures to protect public health and provide their people with generic drugs to combat HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases.
These diseases kill 14 million people annually. High cost brand-name drugs have hindered access to life-saving medicines for the world's poor. Lower cost generic drugs will help save many more lives. Public health should come before private profit - both in Canada and around the world.
After more than two years of campaigning for improved access to essential medicines for patients in poor countries, MSF at times still encounters raised eyebrows: why does MSF, a medical humanitarian organisation, care about intellectual property rights?
The answer is the same as it was in Seattle in 1999, when MSF first addressed the negotiators of the world's trade rules at the 3rd WTO ministerial meeting.
We care because our patients in the developing world are dying. They do not have access to the medicines they need, either because they cannot afford them, or because the necessary drugs don't exist at all.
Some of this suffering could be prevented or alleviated if international trade rules and agreements, such as the TRIPS Agreement, stopped regulating essential medicines as if they were any other consumer products. Medicines aren't Barbie dolls or CDs - they are a matter of life and death for millions of people.