Two UN agencies on Wednesday called for the renewal of an agreement that allows the world’s poorest countries to access life-saving drugs at costs they can afford, stressing that failing to do so would jeopardize crucial treatment for HIV/AIDS and other diseases for those who need it the most.
Illustrative image. (Photo: Internet)
“Access to affordable HIV treatment and other essential medicines is vital if least-developed countries are to achieve the health-related and other Millennium Development Goals,” said the administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Helen Clark, referring to the eight anti-poverty targets that include halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal access to treatment of this disease for all who need it by 2015.
In a press release, UNDP and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) urged members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to consider the special needs and requirement of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and extend their transition period to comply with the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) next week.
Established in 1995, the TRIPS agreement sets minimum standards for various forms of intellectual property regulation at a global scale, including medical drugs. However, patent protection is a factor that drives up drug costs, making many essential treatments unaffordable for the LDCs.
“An extension would allow the world’s poorest nations to ensure sustained access to medicines, build up viable technology bases, and manufacture or import the medicines they need,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe.
The LDCs are home to some of the world’s most vulnerable people and bear considerable health burdens. In 2011, some 9.7 million of the 34 million people living with HIV worldwide lived in the LDCs.
Of the people living with HIV in the LDCs, 4.6 million were eligible for antiretroviral treatment in accordance with the 2010 World Health Organization HIV treatment guidelines, but only 2.5 million were receiving it.
In the 49 countries which are considered the LDCs by the United Nations, non-communicable disease burdens are also rising much faster than in higher income countries. Data from low-income countries suggest that cancer incidence is expected to rise by 82 percent from 2008 to 2030, whereas in high-income countries the incidence is expected to rise at a much lower rate of 40 percent, in part due to widespread access to vaccines and medicines.
To address this issue, WTO members had granted the LDCs a 10- year transition phase to fully comply with TRIPS. The second extension of that deadline is set to expire on July 31. A proposal to the TRIPS Council, submitted on behalf of the LDCs, seeks a further extension so long as a country remains an LDC.
The TRIPS Council is set to discuss the proposal next week in Geneva, UN officials said here.