E-drug: Answer from Lamy to MSF's open letter
Following MSF's open letter sent on February 12, regarding South
Africa (asking to retrieve Sir Leon Brittan's letter of 1998 and
taking position on what's happening there), please find bellow Mr.
Lamy's answer. Following, are the comments MSF sent to Mr. Lamy in
reaction to his answer, today.
**** letter received on Friday 2/03:
Dear Mr Rostrup,
In your open letter to me dated 12 February 2001 you refer to a
letter, signed by my predecessor Sir Leon Brittan in March 1998, to
the then Vice-President T.M. M'Beki.
You also refer to my answers to questions put by European
parliamentarians. I am pleased to hereby confirm and complement
them. Let me repeat that the Community views international
protection of intellectual property rights as essential in order to
encourage investment in R&D activities for pharmaceuticals and
vaccines against serious diseases, and therefore pursues a policy of
full implementation of the TRIPs Agreement by all WTO members.
I also confirm that the Commission is of the opinion that the TRIPs
Agreement provides the necessary flexibility for WTO members to
protect public health concerns. The Commission indeed considers that
the TRIPs Agreement gives countries some discretion to issue
compulsory licenses under certain conditions to respond to situations
of health emergencies. I confirm that while the Commission attaches
importance to full implementation of the TRIPs Agreement, it does
not push WTO members to adopt intellectual property legislation
which is more stringent than the Agreement requires.
This Commission made the issue of accelerating action against three
major communicable deseases - HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis - one
of the key priorities of its development policy. Assisting the
developing countries in their ambitions to increase access to
essential medicines by reducing costs and improving health
infrastructure is at the forefront of the Commission actions in this
field. Our recently adopted and wide-ranging Programme for Action
shows clearly the degree of that commitment and points to the
policies to be pursued.
As far as trade-related aspects are concerned, the Community will
assist developing WTO members in the implementation of the TRIPs
Agreement upon their request. As compulsory licensing is part of the
Agreement (Article 31), the assistance will naturally comprise this
element as well.
More generally, following thorough examination and discussion with
all stakeholders, we strongly support an international commitment to
tiered pricing as the most efficient way, in the short term, to
increase affordability of medicines. The Community will also
support, through its technical and development assistance
programmes, the reinforcement of pharmaceutical policies and of
local production capacities in developing countries as a medium term
means to increase affordability.
The problems the South African government is facing in terms of the
AIDS epidemic and the related social, financial and other problems
are serious and the Community is currently providing support to
South Africa to inter alia strengthen its health and education
infrastructure. We will of course continue to do so, and stand ready
to enhance this support if this country so wishes.
You will understand that, beyond this commitment to an ambitious
Community and international action which speaks for itself, I will
not take any position on litigation between private operators and a
national government regarding internal constitutional affairs.
***** answer from MSF sent on 5/03/01:
Brussels, 5 March 2001
Dear Mr Lamy,
Thank you for your response to our letter of 12 February 2001 in
which we request you to officially withdraw the letter your
predecessor Sir Leon Brittan sent to the then-Deputy President of the
Republic of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, objecting to the Medicines and
Related Substances Control Amendment Act, No. 90 of 1997.
The disputed Act aims at implementing TRIPS-compliant measures, in
particular parallel importation, to increase access to medicines. Sir
Leon Brittan's letter was part of an opposition to the Act from the
pharmaceutical industry and the U.S. government in 1998.
Although we appreciate your support for the right of countries to
implement TRIPS-compliant measures to protect public health concerns,
we are disappointed that you do not respond to our request to withdraw
the letter of Sir Leon Brittan.
We did not ask you to take a position on litigation between private
operators and a national government. We asked you to retract the
position your predecessor took on behalf of the European Union at the
onset of the court case in 1998. At the time, the Commission
apparently did not think that it was inappropriate to take a position
in the dispute on the Medicines Act.
We have been impressed by recently expressed commitments by the
Commission to increase access to medicines in the developing world.
But the policy statements of the Commission have little meaning if, at
the end of the day, you do not back them up with action. The situation
in South Africa and the present court case would have been an
excellent opportunity to show developing countries that the European
Commission is prepared to put its actions where its words are. It is
extremely disappointing that you are not prepared to do this.
Morten Rostrup, MD PhD
President of MÈdecins Sans FrontiËres International Council
Seco_GERARD@bi.msf.org (Seco GERARD)
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