OXFAM calls it a failed promise. The international agency working to eradicate poverty, suffering and injustice recently issued a report blaming rich countries for what it calls the needless suffering and death of many who have been denied access to generic medications.
It was five years ago that world leaders meeting in Doha, Qatar, agreed to make medications available at a lower cost to poor countries. Under World Trade Organization rules, governments can declare a public health emergency and permit the manufacture of a patented drug without the consent of the owner.
However, OXFAM says several countries today are failing to take advantage of the option. Instead, it says they are signing away the right under terms of new bi-lateral agreements or free trade agreements with the developed world. The agreements, according to OXFAM, press for the respect of stronger intellectual property rights that often favor the large pharmaceutical companies of the West, and generic and inexpensive medicines are kept off the market.
As a result, some "drugs are fifteen times more expensive," says the director of Oxfam's "Make Trade Fair" campaign, Celine Charveriat. The reason: "The profit of a few companies," which is why she believes it's time to re-think the situation.
Charveriat says that by failing in their Doha promise, world leaders are dashing Africa's hopes in fighting HIV/AIDS. She lists different ways in which pharmaceutical companies and rich countries are preventing access to generic drugs, including litigation.
"Countries are pressured by the United States and the European Union, to sign trade agreements that would make it impossible to use those instruments, some are being sued for trying to give access to cheaper medicine, and there is no technical assistance to help countries that want to use these flexibilities."
Charveriat says people in both developing and developed countries have to stand up for what she says is lacking in the declaration: the political will. "This is just not acceptable, you cannot let millions of people die to facilitate the profit of a few companies. What is the credibility of the international community?"