WTO Sets Deal for Africa to Get Cheap Drugs
For those that are less willing to read the whole article, I highlighted the key points - Skin
Africa to receive cheaper Aids drugs
By Tim Butcher in Johannesburg
The World Trade Organisation broke eight months of bitter deadlock at the weekend when it agreed to let poorer nations import cheaper generic drugs to fight killer diseases such as Aids and malaria.
The agreement reached in Geneva on Saturday allows countries unable to produce their own medicines to import cheap generic drugs.
"This is a historic agreement for the WTO," said the organisation's director-general, Supachai Panitchpakdi.
Third World countries and many charities have been demanding that poorer states, particularly in Africa, be allowed access to cheaper drugs to stem the Aids crisis.
But pharmaceutical companies, backed mainly by the United States, have fought a rearguard battle to protect their patent rights on the drugs.
The WTO was partly shamed into taking the decision after an emotional submission by Moroccan delegates who said more than two million had died from Aids in the time the WTO had been horse-trading over the issue.
Experts say a year's course of anti-retroviral drugs to slow down the onset of Aids would normally cost about £1,000 if bought from Western companies. Identical versions imported from countries such as India and Brazil would be about one quarter of the price.
While some countries expressed delight at the decision, it has awkward consequences for South Africa, the country with the most HIV/Aids sufferers, where the president, Thabo Mbeki, has doggedly refused to authorise anti-retroviral drugs.
He is now expected to face renewed pressure to authorise their use in public hospitals.
Accused by health campaigners of dithering while tens of thousands of South Africans die, his government had always argued against the drugs, partly because they were so expensive for the strained national budget.
The WTO decision is expected to reduce the cost of anti-retrovirals dramatically, however, giving Mr Mbeki's critics ammunition to demand them in public hospitals.
But so eccentric is the South African leader's attitude to Aids - it led to questions about his sanity when he suggested the condition was a creation of the CIA to discredit black Africans - that it is possible he will delay the drugs further.
The WTO deal was announced in a declaration, Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. This allows countries without a pharmaceutical industry to import cheaper generic drugs under certain strict criteria.
"It's good news for Africa, and especially good news for the people of Africa who so desperately need access to affordable medicine," Amina Chawahir Mohamed, the Kenyan ambassador in Geneva, said.
But Oxfam and Médecins Sans Frontières said in a joint statement that the deal was "flawed". It was "designed to offer comfort to the US and the Western pharmaceutical industry," the statement said.
Does this slap the owners of patents to the drugs in the face or does it begin something good in Africa? The AIDS/HIV crisis there is one of the single biggest threats of the continent.
Should the drug companies' intellectual property rights be upheld? Should they be suspended, even in limited capacity, for the greater good?