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[e-drug] Answer from Lamy to MSF's open letter

E-drug: Answer from Lamy to MSF's open letter
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     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.

     Yours sincerely,

     Pascal Lamy

    *****   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.

     Sincerely yours,

     Morten Rostrup, MD PhD
     President of MÈdecins Sans FrontiËres International Council
 Seco_GERARD@bi.msf.org (Seco GERARD)
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