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Wednesday, 24 November, 1999, 13:39 GMT
Medicines plea for poorest countries
Developing countries suffering from lack of drugs

The world's richest nations are being urged to help developing countries obtain medicines desperately needed to treat killer diseases.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is calling on the European Union to lead the way in tackling the drug crisis faced by the developing world.

Infectious diseases kill 17m people worldwide each year, most of them in poor countries.

President of MSF James Orbinski, launching a campaign in Brussels, said developing countries often cannot afford expensive drugs to treat infections such as Aids.

"Some of the reasons people die from diseases like Aids, tuberculosis, sleeping sickness and other tropical diseases is that life-saving essential medicines are either too expensive because of patent protection or are not available because they are not seen as financially viable," he said.

No new research

He added that there was "virtually no new research and development" for priority tropical diseases.

A Kenyan doctor in charge of Aids prgrammes - Christopher Ouma - said one of his dying patients had tried to buy expensive drugs himself.

"But we thought the selling of his property and assets did not represent his best interests," Dr Ouma said.

Life-saving essential medicines are either too expensive... or are not available
James Orbinski, President of Medecins Sans Frontieres

EU negotiators taking part in next week's World Trade Organisation conference in Seattle, were urged to raise the issue of intellectual property rights on essential medecines.

The current agreement includes a clause permitting compulsory licensing of drugs so they can be produced locally if they are otherwise available only in insufficient quantities or at excessively high prices. But developing countries often come under pressure from Western nations not to invoke compulsory licensing.

The United States has threatened sanctions against countries such as Thailand and South Africa over compulsory licensing.

"We want the EU to take a lead role among states in ensuring that pubic health takes priority over trade interests," Mr Orbinksi said.

Support for the existing licensing arrangement and a commitment to research and development were essential, he added.

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See also:
01 Nov 99 |  Health
Call for action over Third World depression
06 May 99 |  Health
Ancient remedy for TB menace
29 Aug 99 |  Health
Developing countries facing heart epidemic
26 Aug 99 |  Health
Call for typhoid vaccines for infants

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