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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 November 2007, 00:01 GMT
Oxfam calls for drug firm action
Nigerian children wearing T-shirts with the Aids symbol
Many Africans do not get Aids treatment because of lack of funds
Drug firms are missing out on a huge potential market by failing to make drugs affordable for the world's poor, a report by charity Oxfam suggests.

Drug firms have made "halting progress" in increasing access to medicine, but much more needs to be done, Oxfam said.

The world's biggest drug firms have done little research into diseases that affect poor people, the report said.

And their overzealous protection of patents means many poor people cannot afford the drugs they need.

Priced out

Currently 85% of the world's population is priced out of the industry's market, the report said.

Those who cannot afford drugs often pay with their lives.

Malaria claims the lives of one million people every year, while two million people die annually from TB.
Tanzanian pharmaceuticals factory, TPI
Production of HIV/Aids drugs is already under way in Tanzania

Anti-poverty charity Oxfam says prices for essential medicines need to be tiered, in line with people's ability to pay.

Some companies do offer different prices but often "solely as a reflection of the publicity that surrounds the disease or the country", the report said.

Drug firms rely over heavily on donations to deliver affordable drugs and do little research into the drugs developing countries need, it added.

Between 1999 and 2004, there were only three new drugs targeted at diseases affecting the developing world out of 163 drugs brought to market, the report said.

Justify the cost

Leading pharmaceutical companies argue that they need to charge higher prices to justify the billions of dollars they spend on research and development.

High taxes and mark-ups by pharmacists and dispensing doctors also push medicine prices higher, they point out.

In addition, their drugs and brands are often ripped off in countries with poor copyright protection.

But, by refusing to offer prices that suit the pocket of its poorer consumers, drug firms are losing out, Oxfam argues.

These economies offer huge market potential but industry needs a "vastly different approach: one which reflects the significance of massive income disparities", the report said.

"The industry is operating in a short-sighted way because it could gain enormous benefits from emerging markets, including lower development costs and cheaper manufacturing. Yet instead it continues to blindly use the same strategies in poor countries," Oxfam's head of research Sumi Dhanarajan said.

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