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International News

European Union Urges World Health Organization to Break Impasse over Access to Drugs

January 10, 2003

The European Union proposed Thursday calling in the World Health Organization to rescue a deal -- blocked last month by the United States -- to improve access to lifesaving drugs for poor countries. A draft agreement last month at the World Trade Organization in Geneva would have allowed some developing countries to ignore patents and import cheap copies of drugs to treat a variety of diseases, including HIV/AIDS. But the United States wanted to limit its scope only to epidemics of infectious diseases so that developing countries could not use exemptions to gain cheap drugs for other conditions like asthma or diabetes. Developing countries refused, arguing any list would be too restrictive and inflexible.

Blaming a "lack of trust" between Washington and developing countries for the failure of talks last month, EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy said involving WHO could restore good faith. The EU's new proposal would start with a broad list of infectious diseases, but allow WTO members facing "any other serious public health problems" to ask WHO, a UN agency, for guidance on whether their situation was covered as well. "We are convinced that we will be able to break the deadlock and rapidly achieve a final agreement," Lamy said.

A US trade official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington was open to considering new ideas, but would wait to see how developing countries react to the EU proposal. Kenya, which speaks for the African Group, also had no immediate reaction.

A US pledge made last month not to challenge any country that breaks WTO rules by exporting drugs to a country in need until a resolution is found would cover infectious diseases including HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, ebola, African trypanomiasis, cholera, dengue, and typhoid and typhus fevers. But Lamy said the EU would not sign on because the US solution was temporary and unilateral. "It doesn't guarantee the necessary stability and legal certainty," he said. "We want to have a multilateral contract."

Back to other CDC news for January 10, 2003

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Associated Press
01.09.03; Paul Geitner



  
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
 

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