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Flawed WTO drugs deal will do little to secure future access to medicines in developing countries

Geneva, 30 August 2003 - Today's WTO agreement that is ostensibly intended to get drugs to the poorest countries does not provide a workable solution, according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Oxfam.

"Today's deal was designed to offer comfort to the US and the Western pharmaceutical industry," said Ellen 't Hoen of MSF. "Unfortunately, it offers little comfort for poor patients. Global patent rules will continue to drive up the price of medicines."

The original intention of the talks was to facilitate the supply of affordable generic drugs for developing countries. However, this agreement has thrown up new legal, economic, and political obstacles to ensuring production and export of generic medicines in the future. The statement that the US insisted on adds another layer of uncertainty that leaves developing countries vulnerable to pressure not to use the system.

"Today, countries can use compulsory licenses for import, because a supply of generic versions of many drugs is available somewhere on the world market," said Céline Charveriat of Oxfam. "What Members do not seem to take into account is that the burdensome system being put in place does nothing to ensure that generic production will happen in the future. Rather, developing countries will have little alternative to the high prices and long-term monopolies of brand-name pharmaceutical companies."

Yesterday, over twenty developing countries were voicing concerns about the text. Today, they have come under tremendous pressure to adopt it. However, this disappointing outcome must not prevent countries from immediately taking measures that are allowed under WTO patent rules in order to access affordable medicines and save lives.