Call on the WTO to Increase Access to Affordable Drugs

In view of the WTO MC6 currently held in Hong Kong, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) organised an extraordinary but meaningful diving event - "Reaching Out for Essential Medicines" today to call on the WTO to increase access to affordable essential medicines in developing countries.

Volunteers from MSF-Hong Kong, together with artistes Mr. Law Chung-him, Miss Candice Chan and divers from Tin Shui Wai Diving Team and St. Joseph's College, experienced the difficulties to access essential medicines in developing countries by jumping from a 3-metre spring board of a swimming pool and trying to grasp a mega-pill hanging up in mid air.

Ms. Suerie Moon, China campaigner of MSF Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines, pointed out that pharmaceutial patents under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement has lead to high drug prices and made many life-saving drugs unaffordable for patients in developing world. MSF has already been confronted with steep price increases in our projects today and we have to pay five to 30 times more for second-line anti-retroviral drugs than first-line drugs to treat HIV/AIDS patients that have developed drug resistance to first-line treatment.

She added that the WTO recently has decided to amend the TRIPS Agreement based on the "August 30th decision", which was designed in 2003 to allow exportation of generic medicines produced under compulsory licences. However, this system has long been viewed by MSF and public health groups as overly cumbersome and inefficient. She called on the WTO Members to assess the existing measures, propose robust and workable ways to eliminate the negative effects that drug patents have on access to essential medicines.

Dr. Arthur Pang, the first MSF-Hong Kong volunteer to dive today hoped that WTO members could respect the Doha Declaration which was agreed by all in 2001, and put words into action to promote access to essential medicines.

"This week we hear a lot about the WTO rules and regulations. We should never forget that these rules affect millions of people, including thousands of MSF patients who do not have access to essential medicines," said Mr. Dick van der Tak, Executive Director of MSF-Hong Kong before diving. He added, "It is our obligation to give a voice to these patients."

Dr. Lo Wing-lok, one of the officiating guests and Chairman of People's Health Actions also said, "No matter how professional you are as a medical health worker, you can't help if you don't have the appropriate medicines." Dr. Lo said that the protection of intellectual property for drugs was already enough currently and there should not have more barriers added on the access to medicines. He also called on the pharmaceutial companies to reduce the drug prices and increase research and developing for diagnostic tools or drugs for diseases of the poor.

Another officiating guest, President of Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union Mr. Cheung Man-kwong said that it was miserable for patients suffering from curable diseases, but died of no access to affordable essential medicines.He reminded that while the Korean farmers could still protestand voice out during the WTO meetings, there were millions of patients suffering from lack of access to essential medicines. He urged the WTO to eliminate unnecessary barrier on pharmaceutial patent proteciton to ensure patients' lives.

Various infectious diseases including AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and kala-azar take away the lives of 14 million people per year. With suitable medication, many of the deaths are avoidable. However, patients in the developing world are unable to get access to essential medicines. One of the reasons is that drug patents push up the prices of medicines, which become unaffordable to the patients. MSF is urging WTO member states to ensure that existing products remain affordable, and that new therapies are developed and made available to patients in poor countries.



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