Paving the way for better global public health

At a Forum Europe Conference in Brussels, the pharmaceutical industry discussed with NGOs and EU decision makers what the Union can do to improve access to health care in the developing countries.

The following issues were raised in three main sessions:

  • the influence of WTO’s TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) regime on global access to medicines;
  • the lack of public health infrastructure and health care systems in the developing countries;
  • the need to improve local infrastructures, incentivise research and development, and promote education;
  • the positive role of public-private partnerships.


Mr. Jacobus Richelle, Director General of theCommission's DG Developmentpointed to a recent resolution by the Development Council (30 May 2002). In that resolution, the development ministers decided to harmonise and coordinate EU policy on the issue of health and poverty.

Mr. Jean-Jacques Bertrand, Chairman ofAventis Pasteur, presented the major contributions of the pharmaceutical research-based industry to fighting poverty and diseases. The contributions from the industry have reached a total value of $1.9 billion since 1999. "This means that the industry's contribution has been of similar magnitude than the international community's efforts through the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria, which collected $2 billion to date", Mr. Bertrand stated.

The Director-General ofDG TradeMr. Mogens Peter Carl stated that the Commission wants to establish a clear link between a better modified TRIPS with adequate safeguards and voluntary initiatives of the industry.

Mr. Bibek Debroy, the Director of theRajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies, and Mr. Bruno Gryseels, the Director of theInstitute of Tropical Medicinein Antwerp, said that the basic health problem in developing countries is not caused by the property right issues (TRIPS), but by the lack of good infrastructure and basic health care systems.

More delegates agreed that the cost of patented drugs and of medicines in general is a very small part of the picture. According to preliminary figures given by Jeffrey Kemprecos, Director of Public Affairs ofMerck, from surveys conducted recently by the company, the patenting rate on more than 300 essential drugs in Africa may be less than 1 per cent, with 99 per cent of drugs never patented or off-patent there, strongly suggesting that patents per se are not a significant barrier to access.

On the other hand, representatives of Oxfam and other NGOs demanded better accessibility to essential medicines for the poor countries. Dr. Arzumand Banu Khan, head of theNational Aids Coordinating Agencyin Botswana, stated that the time to act is now and that developing countries should be able to set their own priorities.


The one-day conference "Global Healthcare and Development" took place on 4 June and was organised by Forum Europe in association with Humanitarian Affairs Review, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), and Speakers and representatives from developing countries and top NGOs, such as Médecins sans Frontières and Oxfam participated in the high-level and sometimes controversial debates.


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