Last-minute pressured to drop language on protecting access to affordable meds from TB Summit declaration negotiations

Matthias Steinbach

US government exerting extreme pressure, threatening not to endorse declaration

New York – Countries negotiating the final declaration text for the first-ever UN High-level Meeting on Tuberculosis in September are being put under significant pressure to drop all references to protecting countries’ rights to take fully-legal actions to access affordable medicines for their people, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported learning today.

As the nearly two-month negotiations wind down in New York this weekend, one of the final sticking points remains language on public health safeguards enshrined in the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). This allows governments, among other things, to issue ‘compulsory licenses’ to override patents in the interest of public health, so that they can allow generic versions to be produced or imported and more people can receive needed treatment.

Medicines affordability and use of TRIPS flexibilities has been agreed upon in multiple international fora, including the UN High-level Declaration on anti-microbial resistance (AMR). 

“How is it possible that global leaders will gather for the first time to decide how to tackle the world’s most deadly infectious disease killer, and yet some countries backed by their big pharma lobbies are pushing to remove any mention of the need for vital medicines to be affordable?” said Sharonann Lynch, HIV and TB Advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign. “Drug-resistant-TB is a public health emergency, so clearly the world is going to need to kick the response to this disease into high gear if we want to stop senseless deaths. Blocking more affordable generic versions of safer oral medicines needed to scale up treatments for people with DR-TB will not be the way to do it.”
Talks on the TB declaration were supposed to have wrapped up but they continued on Friday without resolution. The U.S. is exerting extreme pressure on other negotiators by refusing to sign the declaration at the U.N. General Assembly in September if language such as paragraph (PP19) that “recognizes the importance of affordable medicines” and “urges countries to enforce intellectual property rules in ways that promote access” is included. 

The ‘Group of 77’ bloc of developing countries is under pressure to drop all references to the WTO’s 2001 Doha Declaration that enshrined public health flexibilities and safeguards in the TRIPS agreement. 

The negotiators expected to be finished with the text by Monday, after which the declaration text will not be re-opened, according to plans. 

“We’re appealing to all countries, including those in the Group of 77, and Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, that have a high burden of TB, to urgently stand up right now against bullying that aims to keep medicines out of the hands of your people who need treatment,” said Leena Menghaney, South Asia Head for MSF’s Access Campaign. “This upcoming TB Summit is such an important opportunity to reaffirm countries’ rights to make medicines affordable for their people – don’t waste this moment.”

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