U.S. Drops Its Demand for List of Diseases Covered by Drugs Agreement
June 24, 2003
The United States made a crucial concession Sunday in World Trade Organization discussions to ensure that poor nations can afford patented drugs to treat diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria. A senior U.S. official said Washington no longer is insisting that a WTO agreement to allow the importation of cheap, generic copies of drugs should be limited to a list of specified diseases.Adapted from:
WTO rules allow countries facing public health crises to override patents and order their drugs from cheaper, generic suppliers. But they can only order from domestic manufacturers, which is of no use for the majority of poor nations that have no pharmaceutical industries.
An agreement that would have allowed imports of generic drugs in certain circumstances collapsed late last year when the United States, under pressure from major drug companies, refused to accept it, despite agreement by all other WTO members. One of Washington's biggest concerns was that the provision would be used to treat almost any medical condition, from diabetes to impotence. The United States alternatively proposed a list of entirely infectious diseases to be covered, mostly diseases affecting sub-Saharan Africa. Developing countries rejected this, claiming the list was too restrictive.
Many developing countries have said they will not accept other WTO agreements until the drugs issue is settled.
"While the industry sees it as appropriate for countries to use compulsory licensing and even importation to meet health needs, they want to be sure that countries do not abuse that as a way of promot[ing] the commercial interests of generic industries," the official said. Producers also want to ensure that such cheap generic drugs do not end up in industrialized countries' markets, he added.
The official said the United States still is in discussion with drug company bosses, and he was hopeful that the issue would be settled by WTO's September ministerial meeting in Cancun, Mexico.
06.22.03; Naomi Koppel