Poor Nations Given Access to Cheaper Drugs

Published Online: Wednesday, October 1, 2003

    The World Trade Organization (WTO), under unanimous agreement, has agreed to give poor nations greater access to inexpensive lifesaving medicine by altering international trade rules.

    Under the agreement, poor countries will be able to import generic versions of patented drugs, purchasing them from countries such as India and Brazil without running into conflict of trade laws protecting patent rights. For years, African countries and their supporters in nonprofit health groups have been fighting for such an agreement, saying that moral and political arguments outweigh commercial considerations in the face of AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.

    ?This will absolutely save millions of lives that would be lost without it,? said Faizel Ismail, South Africa?s permanent representative at the WTO (as reported in the New York Times).

    The accord was made possible after the United States agreed to the original proposal it had rejected last December but included the demand that such generic medicines could be imported to cure any life-threatening disease, so long as it was a public health emergency. The Bush administration had prevented the WTO from adopting the measure, stating that it should be restricted to a handful of diseases and limited to certain countries.

    ?The final piece of the jigsaw puzzle has fallen into place,? said Supachai Panitchpakdi, director general of WTO. ?It proves once and for all that the organization can handle humanitarian as well as trade concerns.?

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