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WHO calls for lowered drug prices despite US walkout

WHO has approved a 23 May resolution to promote alternative ways of financing medicine and vaccine development to lower drug prices and augment availability

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has approved a 23 May resolution proposed by Brazil to promote alternative ways of financing medicine and vaccine development to lower drug prices and augment availability.

WHO members universally agreed on the resolution, despite the previous day's walkout of US delegates during a negotiation session aimed at homogenising the agency's 193 members regarding drug development, patenting and pricing.

The resolution encouraged governments to address the link between the cost of research and development and the price of medication.

Another more contentious element was for WHO to provide technical and policy support to countries intending to make use of World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules for overcoming international patent protection rules.

The regulations allow countries to issue compulsory licenses to overturn patent rights, but only after discussions with the patent holders and paying them compensation. If a country declares a public health emergency, governments do not have to negotiate terms of remuneration.

For example, Thailand has adopted the compulsory license procedure and is importing generic copies of US-manufactured HIV and cancer drugs. US drug company, Abbott, reacted to Thailand's position by withdrawing seven of its latest HIV drugs from the market there, but then went on to cut the price of Kaletra (lopinavir/ritonavir) to around USD 1,000 per patient per year.

A 2006 Oxfam report sponsored by the charity, which examined access to drugs, published WHO statistics which revealed that 74 per cent of HIV antiviral medicines were still patent protected, while 77 per cent of sub-Saharan Africans still cannot access HIV medication.

31st May 2007

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