Update on contentious negotiations for TB summit declaration

SOUTH SUDAN 2014 © Valérie Batselaere/MSF
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South Africa reopens negotiations after US, other countries pushed for declaration that failed to protect access to affordable medicines

For almost two months, countries have been engaged in heated negotiations on a draft declaration set to be adopted during the United Nations’ (UN) High-Level Meeting on tuberculosis (TB), which will take place in New York in September. The near-final draft was submitted to the president of the UN General Assembly on July 20 and was under the ”silence procedure” until July 24. Following “silent procedure,” a declaration draft is considered “agreed” if no government puts forward an objection. However, if a country breaks the silence, the negotiations reopen.

On July 24, South Africa raised concerns about the text, breaking the “silence” and offering negotiators another chance to improve the language before it is approved and adopted.

The international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) would like to see the document reinforce countries’ rights to use legal options allowed under the World Trade Organization’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) Agreement to make sure TB medicines are affordable and accessible. MSF is also concerned that the draft includes problematic language that says “intellectual property rights are an important incentive in the development of new health products,” which is simply not true for TB since the disease predominantly affects people living in low- and middle-income countries, making products for it generally less profitable for companies anyway. 
 
Els Torreele, executive director of MSF’s Access Campaign, said the following of the ongoing negotiations:
 
“MSF applauds South Africa’s courageous decision to speak up and demand stronger commitments to ensure that existing and future TB diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines reach the hands of the people who need them, leading to the reopening of negotiations on the UN High-Level Meeting on TB draft declaration.

“For almost two months, negotiators have been in heated talks that resulted in a draft declaration that widely diverged from language in previous UN declarations on health and access to medicines—declarations that recognized the need to promote public interest-driven research and development (R&D) and ensure that resulting health products are affordable and available for people. This aggressive push by several countries backed by big pharma lobbies would severely undercut needed guarantees to protect access to vital tools and medicines for people living with TB. 

“We ask countries negotiating the text to urgently provide political support for the inclusion of language on affordability and ‘de-linkage’ in the draft to reflect that investments in TB R&D must be separated from the expectation of financial returns through sales or high prices. Countries must also push to retain the full right to use internationally agreed public health safeguards enshrined in the TRIPS agreement for access to affordable, generic versions of all TB medicines, especially the newer all-oral options needed to scale up treatment of the disease.

“It is critical that leaders remember this declaration won’t just live on paper; it will have real-world consequences for millions of people who need affordable, lifesaving TB medicines.”