EU Double Standards Threaten to Leave Poor Countries without Medicines

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EU Double Standards Threaten to Leave Poor Countries without Medicines

WASHINGTON - New report by Oxfam International and Health Action International Europe.

The European Union is contradicting world trade rules by putting the
interests of big drug companies before the 2 billion people in the
world who cannot access essential medicines, according to a new report issued today by Oxfam International and Health Action International Europe.

The EU’s actions also undermine its obligations to achieve the
Millennium Development Goals, as well as World Trade Organization
agreements.

The report
coincides with recent news that India and Brazil are filing a complaint
against the European Commission at the WTO after the Netherlands seized
anti-HIV and other medicines earlier this year. The medicines were
going from India via Europe to Brazil, Colombia and Nigeria.

The report says that, since late 2008, Germany as well as the
Netherlands has made customs seizures together totaling 19 shipments of
generic medicines bound for developing countries. Oxfam and HAI
(Europe) say the generic shipments were legitimate under WTO rules.
The EU is increasing pressure on developing country governments to surrender their rights to obtain affordable, generic medicines in order to protect public health, even though these rights are guaranteed under global trade rules, the groups say.

The EU is also insisting on tough new intellectual property rules in
bilateral free trade deals that go beyond the WTO’s existing TRIPS
agreement.

The EU is pushing these measures that will result in higher medicine prices in developing countries
at the same time it is trying to reduce domestic medicine prices.
Twenty-four out of 27 EU Member States have taken steps to implement
price controls for medicines.

Furthermore, the European Commission is carrying out a high profile
investigation into the pharmaceutical industry for intellectual
property abuses in the European Union, and is contemplating action
against these companies.

Elise Ford, Oxfam head of EU advocacy, said: “The EU is guilty of
double standards. One rule for the rich and another for the poor. A
crackdown on European pharmaceutical prices is happening alongside a
concerted effort to further push intellectual property rules that
prevent poor countries from buying affordable medicines.

The EU’s policies are increasing the cost of medicines. This is hitting the poorest people in developing countries disproportionately hard, as 20-60% of their health budgets are spent on medicines.

“Millions of poor people have to pay for medicines out of their own
pockets so even a small price rise can make them unaffordable. Europe’s
policies are directly responsible for this scandal,” Ford said.

The EU’s trade policies demand that developing countries protect the
interests of drug companies above public health priorities, and the EU
demands exceed even those made by the much-criticized US administration
of President Bush.

Sophie Bloemen, Projects Officer for Health Action International
Europe, said: “The EU must accept its moral and legal obligations.
There is growing evidence that the EU’s trade agenda is causing severe
damage to public health in developing countries.”

The report details a number of other EU policies that are damaging access to medicines in developing countries including:

  • promotion of a new global framework to enforce Intellectual
    Property rules which delay access to generic medicines in developing
    countries, including through seizures of legitimate medicines;
  • obstructing progress at the World Health Organization towards new
    models of research and development that meet health needs in developing
    countries;
  • and spending on R&D for developing countries that remains insufficient in spite of increases in recent years.

These policies lack coherence and undermine broader EU development
objectives to promote access to health care. While the EU is increasing
funding to improve health care for European citizens, it is denying developing countries the affordable medicines they need to ensure good health, the report says.

“It’s time that the EU joins up its policies. Both the EC and Member
States must promote access to health care in their development policies
and access to affordable medicines through their trade policy,” Ford
said.

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Oxfam International is a confederation of 13 like-minded organizations working together and with partners and allies around the world to bring about lasting change. Oxfam works directly with communities and that seeks to influence the powerful to ensure that poor people can improve their lives and livelihoods and have a say in decisions that affect them.

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