W.H.O. sold out to Big Pharma


July 11th 2000 - Durban South Africa International AIDS Conference

The World Health Organization sold out to Big Pharma

For years, the World Health Organisation has offered active and criminal resistance to the distribution of antiretroviral treatments in poor countries.

Last May, the Member States of the World Health Assembly manadated WHO to accelerate the process which is to lead to access to treatment and prophylaxis of HIV/AIDS. The mission it received comprised among other tasks to "update the existing databases, so that Member States may benefit from all the information available concerning the prices of essential medicines, including HIV drugs", and "encourage local manufacturing and importing" in compliance with international trade agreements.

The directive required the WHO to engage in drafting TRIPS compliant model legislation so that member states could begin to implement access to the most affordable generic medicines. WHO was also directed to provide assistance to manufacturers of affordable medicines so that drug registry could be accelerated and globalized.A full two months later, there is not a single thing to show for this mandate.

1. Only two antiretrovirals are presently on the WHO Essential Drug List - but only for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, not for treatment. To this day WHO refuses to concretely recognise as essential anything but prevention, leaving treatment completely aside.

2. The database presently available on the website is scandalously incomplete : all references to generic drugmakers have been systematically excised ; the very principle of generic antiretrovirals is being completely denied.

3. WHO is refusing even to publicise and promote the recommendations it arrived at in favour of cotrimoxazole (Bactrim) prophylaxis against opportunistic infections for African countries.

4. WHO has still not publicised and promoted its own briefing book on the health impact of the TRIPs agreement, in which are explained the provisions for compulsory licensing and parallel importing of drugs. The activist groups have needed to hand out the brief book themselves to the Member State delegates to the World Health Assembly, in order to assure the proper spread of this key information which WHO is refusing to take responsibility for.

5. Only two days ago, after UNAIDS showed data proving that only competition between generic and brand-name products has ever lead to substantial drug price reductions, Mr Tarantola, political advisor to Mrs Brundtland, Director of WHO, made it his business to provide a diversion : "price is but the least obstacle". He went on to list all the supposed prerequisites to treatment access : clean water, hygiene, nutrition, human rights, etc. When will WHO outgrow its caricature of a vision of developing countries, and cease to see them as endless barren lands crowded with starving throngs soaking in backward ignorance ?

WHO is an impediment, to the fight being waged by People With AIDS, some developing countries and even UNAIDS, for recognition of the importance of generic medicines, adequate support to those producing them and free circulation of information concerning them. WHO is also an impediment to brand-name drug price reduction efforts. That is because WHO is not ready nor even willing to work outside of system of vested interests organised by the proprietary pharmaceutical industry. WHO has chosen its side, and it is not with People With AIDS.



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