MSF Calls on Leaders of the Americas to Prioritize Public Health Concerns in FTAA

Quebec City, Canada, April 20, 2001 — Today, the international medical aid organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) called on the United States' delegation to the Third Summit of the Americas to immediately abandon efforts to impose more stringent trade regulations that would have a direct and negative impact on access to essential medicines, including those effective in treating HIV/AIDS, in the Americas. MSF urges all heads of state of the Americas to place public health needs above commercial interests in the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) negotiating process.

The current FTAA negotiations have been shrouded in secrecy, but there are clear indications that the U.S. delegation is pushing to impose standards on medicines that far exceed requirements set forth in the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), in effect introducing "TRIPS-plus" provisions . Specifically, the U.S. is seeking to dramatically limit the circumstances under which compulsory licenses on pharmaceuticals may be issued and to extend patent terms on pharmaceuticals beyond the 20-year minimum required in TRIPS.

"In a week in which public opinion has succeeded in tearing down barriers blocking access to medicines in South Africa, it is disturbing to see attempts to erect new ones in the Americas," says Dr. Michael Schull, President of the Board of Directors of MSF Canada. "The regional agreement being discussed this weekend in Quebec City, must not introduce obstacles that will prevent governments from utilizing existing legal safeguards to improve public health, including those allowing for the production and importation of cheaper branded and generic drugs."

Rather than creating more stringent rules, which will be harmful to public health, MSF urges the governments of the Americas to engage in international dialogue, for instance at a special session of the WTO TRIPS Council being convened in Geneva on June 18, to consider further lessening the impact of international patent rules on public health.

"People living in the Caribbean, or Central and South Americas simply do not earn enough income to afford medicines necessary to treat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and other contagious diseases - medicines that are routinely available in the United States, Canada or Europe. Governments must ensure all efforts are made so that people stop dying needlessly," says Olaf Valverde, MSF's Access to Essential Medicines Coordinator in Central America.

MSF is currently working in 12 Latin American and Caribbean countries providing medical care for people with HIV/AIDS, malaria, Chagas disease, leishmaniasis, and other diseases. MSF also provides primary care, maternal/child health care, and other services for displaced and homeless populations and for indigenous people.