E-DRUG: NAM Health Ministers on drug access
[Some 50 Health Ministers of the Non-Aligned Movement met in Johannesburg 26-27
to discuss inter alia access to essential medicines.
Attached a write-up by Dow Jones Newswires. Copied as fair use. NN]
March 26, 2001
Developing Countries Seek United Stand On Health Issues
Dow Jones Newswires
JOHANNESBURG (AP)--World Trade Organization rules need to be restructured so
that poor countries can get immediate access to drugs treating epidemics
such as AIDS, health ministers participating in a meeting for delegates from
mostly developing countries said Monday.
The two-day meeting, ending Tuesday, aims to find a unified Non-Aligned
Movement stand on health issues. Delegates from 33 countries are
WTO rules allowing for production of cheaper, generic drugs and importation
of the cheapest drugs available by circumventing drug distribution
agreements in cases of emergency are insufficient for poor countries who
need drugs now, Joy Phumaphi, health minister of Botswana, said.
"The logical extension (of WTO rules) should provide for us to identify
certain drugs, ... which are critical for treating epidemics that are
ravaging the world now, such as HIV/AIDS, such as tuberculosis, such as
malaria," she told a news conference Monday evening.
The provision should make it impossible for pharmaceuticals to delay drug
availability by suing governments, she said.
Dr. Chandreshwar Prasad Thakur, India's health minister, said summit
delegates had agreed that poor countries must get access to affordable AIDS
drugs soon. Delegates didn't specify how that should be done, but Thakur
called for the creation of a global drug facility fund that would distribute
donor money to needy countries.
Besides drugs, the meeting agenda included health-related obligations of
governments, partnerships between public and private health care sectors,
the role of health in development, and the effects of poverty, educational
disadvantage, gender discrimination and the environment on health.
Thakur said he hoped the meeting will improve developing countries' access
to HIV medications. India could contribute to improved access by providing
generic drugs, he said.
Indian generic drug makers Cipla Ltd. (P.CIP) and Hetero Drugs Ltd.
announced recently they will sell a cocktail of three AIDS drugs for a total
of $600 and $347 respectively per patient per year.
Patented versions of the drugs are much more expensive, though U.S. based
pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck and Co. (MRK) followed the Indian offer
with a pledge to decrease prices of two drugs in developing countries to
$500 and $600 per patient per year.
In a speech at the opening ceremony, South African Health Minister Dr. Manto
Tshabalala-Msimang said globalization and market forces were increasing the
disparity between wealthy and poor.
"We are witnessing an entrenchment and an extension of inequalities within
and between countries," she said. "Often the policies that yield these
unjust outcomes have been imposed on member countries of the Non-Aligned
Movement by powerful external forces. It is our united opposition to such
external prescriptions that serves a central rallying point for the
Non-Aligned Movement in the current context."
In an interview after the speech, Tshabalala-Msimang said globalization was
both good and bad for health in developing countries. Information technology
that has made telemedicine possible was positive, she said, while rich
countries controlled most resources and technology to the detriment of
"We need to make sure that the resources that are available globally can be
made available to benefit both developing and developed countries," she
The meeting aims to produce a document forming the basis of a declaration
the movement plans to deliver to the World Health Assembly, the World Health
Organization's highest governing body.
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