Five years after world leaders signed a formal trade declaration to put health before profits, poor people in developing countries are still being denied life-saving medicines, according to a report published today by international agency Oxfam.
Oxfam says rich countries are dragging their feet and are in some cases actively undermining the Doha Declaration, which affirmed that poor countries can manufacture or import generic versions of patented medicines.
‘Letting generic versions of medicines compete with patented ones is the most sustainable way to bring prices down, said Celine Charveriat, head of Oxfam’s Make Trade Fair campaign, ‘but rich countries aren’t letting that happen.
Canada is roundly criticized in the report for failing to export a single generic pill to developing countries, despite being the first G8 country to allow such exports.
‘Canada’s generic exports law is bound so tightly in red tape it is useless, said Robert Fox, executive director of Oxfam Canada. ‘In August, Health Minister Tony Clement promised to move quickly to improve it. We are still waiting, and so are the millions of poor people, especially women, who are suffering and dying as a result.
In the report, Oxfam accuses the United States of bullying developing countries into bilateral trade deals that extend patents to keep the price of medicines high.
‘If these deals are implemented, said Charveriat, ‘Colombia will have to pay an additional US$940 million per year by 2020 to cover the increased cost of medicines, affecting nearly six million patients. Peru will face a similar predicament.
Meanwhile, multinational pharmaceutical companies are seeking to punish countries that try to use the public health safeguards affirmed in the Doha Declaration. In India, the Swiss company Novartis is suing to block generic versions of an anti-cancer drug, Glivec, which would cost one tenth of the Novartis monopoly priced version. In the Philippines, Pfizer is suing to stop the government from approving a version of the heart disease drug Novarsc costing almost 90% less than Pfizer’s.
‘Canada signed on to the promise to make medicines affordable in poor countries, Fox said. ‘The government must act now to reform Canada’s generics export law, and internationally to achieve trade rules that put health before profit.