Trade, Health Bodies to Study Cheap Drug Options

Trade, Health Bodies to Study Cheap Drug Options

NY Times March 16, 2001, By REUTERS


Filed at 10:28 a.m. ET


GENEVA (Reuters) - The global trade and health bodies WTO and WHO announced on Friday that a meeting of experts will next month study how poorer countries can get better supplies of cheap medicines.


The two bodies will hold a workshop on ``Differential Pricing and Financing of Essential Drugs'' in the Norwegian town of Hosbjor from April 8-11, they said in a statement.


The gathering would be attended by representatives of companies making both proprietary and generic drugs, of governments, and of non-governmental organizationsconcerned with international health and consumer rights.


Academics and consultants who are expert in drugs, financing, pricing and trade policy would also attend the closed-door meeting.


The World Trade Organization (WTO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have called the meeting against a background of rising disputes between developed and developing countries on the cost of drugs, especially those needed in the treatment of AIDS.


The United States is challenging Brazil in the WTO over measures aimed at compelling US firms to manufacture their anti-AIDS drugs at cheaper prices on Brazilian territory or to license Brazilian firms to make them. Some developing countries and NGOs argue that the WTO's 1994 agreement on intellectual property rights, known as TRIPS, is skewed against poorer states and leaves them open to trade sanctions if they try to obtain drugs at lower prices.


Some big drug companies have already begun programs to provide drugs at reduced prices to developing countries, especially those facing major AIDS problems.


But they say measures have to be taken to ensure that these supplies are not diverted back to rich countries.


The statement from the WTO, an independent international body which currently includes 140 member states, and the WHO, a UN agency, said the meeting in Norway would look at how much money was needed to purchase essential drugs for poorer countries and how it could be raised.


The gathering will also look at how to prevent drugs supplies under such a program from undermining markets in the North where they will continue to be sold at current prices.


Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company