No bigger challenge faces the world than the need to improve access to health care in developing countries,
GlaxoSmithKline CEO Jean-Pierre Garnier writes in response recent reports in Britain's Guardian and
other international press regarding Oxfam's Cut the Cost campaign against world trade laws on drugs patents. Oxfam's report this week
correctly identifies deep-seated barriers to the developing world's access to medicines: 'Household poverty, inadequate
public spending and weak public-health infrastructures combine to place effective treatment beyond
the means of the poor,' he continues. Yet the report does not focus on these real and fundamental problems. Instead, predictably and
frustratingly, it chose to focus on the protection of intellectual property, demonizing the research-based pharmaceutical
industry in the process, he writes.
The Oxfam report quotes a World Health Organization estimate that two billion
people lack access to vital medicines, but Garnier argues that less than 5% of the medicines on WHO's essential drugs
list are covered by patent protection anywhere in the world. Oxfam's proposal to weaken patent protection would
do nothing to alter this situation and could in fact have dangerous consequences, Garnier
writes. Patent protection fundamentally underpins the continued research and development for new and better medicines for diseases ...
undermining intellectual property rights could have serious implications for the flow
of new treatments and vaccines, he continues.
Although Garnier calls AIDS a crisis of devastating proportions, he writes that simplistic
suggestions that drug prices are the main problem [in developing countries] are frankly irresponsible. AIDS treatment in countries
lacking the necessary infrastructure is a massive challenge, he adds. GlaxoSmithkline has offered preferential prices in Africa
for HIV/AIDS medication since 1997 and increased the price reductions last year as part
of the U.N.-led accelerating access initiative, Garnier notes, adding that the company's prices are at a level with, if not better than, those
offered by generic manufacturers. Garnier concludes, "GlaxoSmithKline will continue and indeed strengthen its commitment in this
area. We are determined to play as full a role as we are able, in partnership with all
other stakeholders, in the global [health] effort.
(Source: Kaiser Daily HIV report, 15/02/01)