Following a lengthy campaign, senior Scottish Labour MEP David Martin today welcomed the news that the European Commission will support more flexibility in global access to medicine.
Developing countries have, for some time, been requesting from the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that they should remain indefinitely exempt from applying some intellectual property rules on pharmaceuticals.
The European Commission has today announced it will back the request. This change in position comes after years of pressure from MEPs, led by David Martin, who founded the European Parliament Working Group on Innovation, Access to Medicine and Poverty-Related Diseases.
The exemption for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) means they are able to import and produce generic drugs such as HIV treatment at a fraction of the price, and without fears of legal challenges.
The current exemption expires in 2016 and LDCs are lobbying for a further exemption to apply until they are no longer classified as 'least developed'. The move has the support of Socialist and Democrat (S&D) Group, the second largest political group in the European Parliament, including Labour MEPs. The European Commission had previously refused to support the proposal.
David Martin, spokesperson on international trade for the S&D Group said:
"It is welcome news from Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström that the European Union will now back this proposal. We cannot hope to tackle poverty-related diseases without reliable and sustained production of affordable generic medicines.
"Over 60% of people living with HIV in the Least Developed Countries do not have access to antiretroviral drugs. In a world where pharmaceutical companies turn over tens of billions of pounds every year, this is quite simply a scandal on a horrifying scale.
"We are nowhere near getting the balance right yet between incentivising research and ensuring access to life-saving drugs in the developing world. Longer-term I would like to see more innovative mechanisms for pooling resources and patents.
"In the short term, exempting LDCs' TRIPS obligations for pharmaceuticals is absolutely vital to let governments and medical NGOs get a grip on the growing crisis with access to affordable generics."
The request by LDCs will be presented to the World Trade Organisation TRIPS Council in Geneva in October for a decision of the Member countries.
The European Commission announcement is available here: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-15-5620_en.htm
More information on the 'duly motivated request' of the LDCs can be found here: http://www.unaids.org/en/resources/presscentre/pressreleaseandstatementarchive/2015/may/20150521_PS_WTO_LDC
The most recent letter to the Commission from David Martin MEP is online here .
The European Parliament Working Group on Innovation, Access to Medicine and Poverty-Related Diseases was established in 2009 by David Martin. It seeks to bring together MEPs, the European Commission, academics and NGOs and seeks policy coherence across trade, IPR, health and development policy to address access to medicine in the developing world. More information can be found here .