Weekly News Review Archive

21st June, 2002

European Commission generic drug proposals “obscene, absurd and unethical”

Pascal Lamy, the European trade representative, who has long presented himself as the spearhead of the fight for access to medicines, is finally returning to the bosom of Big Pharma.  Last November at Doha the Member States of the WTO instructed the TRIPS

Council to find a solution before the end of 2002 to the problem of how to make it possible for generic producing countries to export generics to countries which aren’t producing themselves. This is a vital measure: under current arrangements, countries may manufacture generic versions of patented drugs, provided these are not exported. This means that whilst South Africans can buy cheaper drugs, their neighbours in less developed countries cannot.

Now the proposals of the European Commission, which play down the importance of universally recognised public health needs, run counter to the spirit of the Doha declaration on "TRIPS and Public Health", and restrict the export of generics by all possible means. If the Commission gets its way, countries wishing to use generics would have to prove they are sufficiently poor, weak or incapable of producing generics on their own, that their needs are genuine and that the illness they are combating is sufficiently serious.

According to Gaëlle Krikorian of Aids-crisis activist group Act Up-Paris, these requirements are “not only obscene”, they deny “the sovereignty of such countries and the fundamental rights of their people.” The proposed system ignores “the fact that sick people in poor countries who suffer from illnesses or symptoms that are not deadly, but severely debilitating, such as arthritis, chronic depression or polio, have the same rights as people in rich countries to have access to health care or live without pain.”

Moreover, the Commission’s prioritising the profits of the drug barons over those of the sick and the poor doesn’t stop there. As well as telling countries what they can and can’t import, the Eurocrats are attempting to impose an array of restrictions and safeguards on producers. The ostensible reason for this is the need to prevent cheap generic medicines being illegally exported to developed countries where they would undermine the market for patented brands.  As Krikorian says, “such measures are absurd as well as unethical. It is up to rich countries, which already have the means at their disposal to regulate and control imports, to make sure they monitor imports at their own borders.”

By requiring from countries wishing to import generics that they give innumerable guarantees and justify the legitimacy of their policy in many different ways, the Commission is making them into easy targets for the very same pressures and threats that have prevented them so far from issuing compulsory licences and obtaining generics.

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