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WHO cheap drug talks inconclusive

Discussions between public health officials and the drug industry regarding a deal to ensure that people in poor countries can receive medicines at affordable prices end without resolution

Discussions between public health officials and the drug industry regarding a deal to ensure that people in poor countries can receive medicines at affordable prices has ended without resolution.

The meeting, which was sponsored by the United Nations' World Health Organisation (WHO), was suspended after delegates used up the six allotted days for negotiations and agreed to meet again in late April 2008 and conclude a deal later in May .

The goal of the talks is to produce guidelines which would foster research and development of affordable drugs to treat diseases prevalent in poor countries, while respecting intellectual property rights of pharmaceutical companies.

Big Pharma argues it needs strong revenues from drug sales to finance research and development into new treatments, including for diseases prevalent in developing countries. The pharmaceutical industry has also condemned the WHO draft plan, while richer countries anxious to keep the taxes of the global drug industry are also unimpressed by the plan.

Health advocates, including aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), say that development of drugs for poor countries is lacking. MSF said the talks, which were hosted by the Intergovernmental Working Group for Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property (IGWG), did see some encouraging progress, however.

A spokesperson for MSF added: "Countries are pushing WHO to be more active in resolving the access to medicines crisis, and take a pro-health approach to intellectual property. Governments are taking steps to address the fundamental reasons why investment into innovation for diseases of the poor is lacking."

The pharmaceutical industry, represented by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA), said it was disappointed by the lack of a deal and called for more public funds to encourage drug development.

30th September 2008

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