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The BBC's Fergus Nicoll
"Oxfam has particularly targeted GlaxoSmith Kline"
 real 56k

Policy Director Oxfam John Forsyth
"Very limited income is being diverted to pay for very expensive medicines"
 real 28k

Sir Richard Sykes, chairman, Glaxo SmithKline
"Why should we condone piracy when we give these drugs away at cost?"
 real 28k

Monday, 12 February, 2001, 13:14 GMT
Drugs firms 'waging war' on poor

Cheap copies of drugs to treat Aids are a lifeline
The international aid group, Oxfam, has accused the global pharmaceutical industry and western governments of waging what it calls an undeclared drugs war against the world's poorest countries.

The organisation says developing countries must be allowed to make cheap copies of drugs to treat diseases such as Aids, respiratory tract infections and childhood diarrhoea.

This is the shadowy side of globalisation

Oxfam policy director Justin Forsyth
Oxfam has also called on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to change patent rules which, it says, result in restricted access to life-saving drugs. Under normal WTO rules, companies can patent drugs for 20 years.

It is estimated that two billion people worldwide lack basic healthcare, and 11 million people die each year from preventable disease.

Oxfam wants one of the world's largest drug companies, GlaxoSmithKline, to drop legal action against countries that are producing cheaper drugs.

Legal disputes

One of those facing such action is Brazil, which manufactures and distributes drugs free of charge to HIV-infected people, a policy that has led to a 50% drop in the Aids death rate in the country.

The WTO has set up a dispute panel to examine a US complaint over Brazilian law, which allows local companies to produce patented drugs in certain cases.

Thailand has also come under US pressure to stop local manufacturers producing cheaper generic drugs for Aids patients. It now has patent laws that are even stricter than required by the WTO, according to Paul Cawthorne of the medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres.

Indian pharmaceutical companies make all the Aids drugs we make or any other company makes - people aren't being treated

Sir Richard Sykes, GlaxoSmithKline

In South Africa, groups campaigning for access to cheap anti-Aids drugs are stepping up their pressure ahead of a key court case next month. The case could establish the legal basis on which cheaper generic versions of well-known drugs can be imported.

South Africa is suffering an acute Aids crisis, with 10% of the population HIV-positive. An Aids activists ' group - the Treatment Action Campaign - is marching to parliament on Monday to press the case for cheaper drugs.

'Corporate wealth'

Oxfam policy director Justin Forsyth said: "This is the shadowy side of globalisation.

"We know that making life-saving drugs more affordable isn't the whole answer. However, the balance has skewed too far toward corporate wealth rather than public health."

Oxfam is also calling for a $5bn international fund to assist disease research and subsidise drug distribution in developing countries.

GlaxoSmithKline said Oxfam did not appreciate the complexities of the problem, which required a shared responsibility by governments, NGOs, the World Bank and the UN.

The company also said that the group had ignored its work in developing countries, including initiatives to reduce the prices of HIV-related drugs.


The company's non-executive chairman, Sir Richard Sykes, told the BBC that the producers of cheap generic drugs were engaging in "piracy".

He said there were plenty of generic copiers in India "who can make these drugs at will".

"So why are they not producing cheap drugs so that the people in India can start being treated? There is absolutely no evidence that that is happening," he said.

"They're exporting to countries where intellectual property is not protected, like Latin America, for example," he added.

He warned that if South Africa allowed generic compounds to be sold cheaply the UK pharmaceutical industry would "start to deteriorate very rapidly".

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See also:

12 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Thais battle firms over Aids drugs
03 Feb 01 | Americas
Brazil in US Aids drugs row
19 Oct 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
South Africa's untouchables
24 Jul 00 | World
G8 call to share wealth
21 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Blair frustration as debt plea fails
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