Health equity in economic and trade policies

US free trade agreements block access to medicines
Oxfam International: 16 August 2006

At the International AIDS Conference in Toronto, US efforts to introduce stronger intellectual property rules in bilateral trade agreements were noted to undermine the fight against AIDS by limiting ability of developing countries to access affordable medicines. 'Under the name of free trade, the US is pushing for monopoly on new medicines, thus driving up the cost for some of the world’s poorest people,' said Rohit Malpani, policy advisor for Oxfam International. 'Neither patients nor governments will be able to afford the new antiretroviral medicines essential to address the pandemic.'

US, WIPO training programme on IP rights in Africa comes under fire
New W: Intellectual Property Watch, 12 February 2012

An intellectual property (IP) conference for government ministers, to be held in April 2012 in South Africa, has stirred controversy among civil society advocates. Entitled “Africa Intellectual Property Forum: Intellectual Property, Regional Integration and Economic Growth in Africa”, the event is being organised by the United States government, and is being touted as the first Africa-wide ministerial-level event of its kind. The authors observe that the focus of the conference appears however to be stricter enforcement of IP rights, as most panels are concerned with enforcement and protection, and most speakers originate in developed country governments and industry. Non-governmental organisations who have worked on intellectual property rights have expressed disappointment, as they expected the conference would consider the 2007 World Intellectual Property Organisation Development Agenda, which consisted of 45 agreed recommendations intended to more fully incorporate the development dimension into WIPO activities, including technical assistance. They critique the agenda and an apparent underlying motive of encouraging strong IP legislation in those countries, at the expense of development and universal access to affordable medicines.

US-sponsored risky research may affect global flu virus framework
Hammond E: Third World Network, 17 January 2012

The fallout from United States-sponsored experiments with pandemic influenza strains has raised strong biosafety concerns and raised dilemmas for implementing the World Health Organization's Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) Framework. Scientists in the United States (US) have created a new, potent virus, and as a result of outbreak fears, US officials have imposed a de facto moratorium on publication of the studies and are debating proposals to censor public versions of the papers, while restricting access to the scientific details to laboratories that have a "legitimate" need to know. The situation raises significant issues for the PIP Framework, which emphasises that significant research results with pandemic implications should be reported to the international laboratory system, and that novel potentially pandemic strains should be provided to the WHO System for characterisation by its laboratory network. In this case, however, it appears that the US will not be willing to share its viruses and research results with WHO Member States, contradicting its pro-sharing position taken in the negotiation of the PIP Framework.

Using law to accelerate treatment access in South Africa: An analysis of patent, competition and medicines law
Park C, Prabhala A and Berger J: United Nations Development Programme, October 2013

This study aims to contribute to the implementation of South Africa’s National Strategic Plan (NSP) on HIV, STIs and TB 2012–2016 by making specific recommendations on law and policy reforms to achieve an enabling and accessible legal framework in three key areas: patent, competition, and medicines law. The South African Patents Act, as it currently stands, does not take full advantage of the flexibilities available in respect of limitations to patent rights. The study recommends that the Patents Act make use of the full range of express exclusions from patentability available under TRIPS, and proposes that the process for issuing compulsory licenses be significantly streamlined, with clear legislative guidelines for determining the grounds upon which compulsory licenses can be granted, as well as their terms and conditions to prevent unnecessary delays. The study concludes by emphasising that its recommendations are aimed at achieving mutually reinforcing goals: promoting access to essential medicines and developing and supporting policies conducive to the growth and development of the domestic generic pharmaceutical industry. The process of reforming South Africa’s laws could benefit from a policymaking approach that is consultative, coherent and developed with the input of all relevant actors, governmental and non-governmental alike.

Veil of secrecy on anti-counterfeit bill
Mpaka C: Malawi News, 12 June 2010

Health activists in Malawi have expressed concern at what they call government’s ‘secret conduct’ on the proposed anti-counterfeit law, which they fear could legislate against the generic drugs on which Malawi’s health care system heavily relies. In keeping with World Trade Organisation (WTO) and international trade agreement terms, countries in East and Southern Africa are introducing laws reportedly to crack down on infringement of trademark and intellectual property rights. According to this article, Malawi’s proposed law to that effect has already been examined by Cabinet on its way to becoming law. However, health activists have expressed concern that the law may cause drug stock-outs if generic medicines are treated as counterfeits, as has been raised in East African versions of counterfeit law. Government is allegedly denying health civil society access to the document, saying it is not for public consumption. Executive Director for the umbrella body Malawi Health Equity Network (MHEN), Martha Kwataine, said enacting a law against generic medical products will reverse Malawi’s efforts in improving health care and worsen drug stock outs in hospitals. ‘Once we have the new laws, it means we will be forced to buy the most expensive brand-name drugs,’ she added. ‘The big companies that are owners of the patents will be making huge profits at the expense of the lives of poor people in Malawi.’

Victims of HIV/AIDS Should Not Suffer From Trade Rules

Botswana was warned last month by a UN Committee that trade agreements should not undermine Botswana’s ability to ensure access to affordable treatment for children or other people with HIV/AIDS. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, in a document made public, strongly recommended that Botswana ensure that “regional and other free trade agreements do not have a negative impact on the implementation of children’s rights.” Most importantly, it warned Botswana that trade agreements should not “affect the possibility of providing children and other victims of HIV/AIDS with effective medicines for free or at the lowest price possible.”

Further details: /newsletter/id/30677
Vote buying in the UN Security Council
Woodward D: The Lancet 369: 12-13, 6 January 2007

In an increasingly globalised world, health is ever more affected by international institutions. Over the past 25 years, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Trade Organization (WTO) have increasingly dominated policymaking in developing countries, leading to substantial effects on health. Furthermore, global threats to health, such as HIV/AIDS, severe acute respiratory syndrome, avian influenza, and climate change, need eff ective collective action at the international level. Therefore the system of global governance is of central, and growing, importance to health. However, global governance is becoming increasingly controversial, particularly in the case of global economic institutions.

Walter Rodney and the racial underpinnings of global inequality
Paschal T: Pambazuka News, January 2017

While inequality has become a topic of increased popularity and politicization in recent years, most of the attention has focused on how 1% own an increasingly large share of the world’s wealth, rather than on inequalities between nations. In a global context in which national borders and citizenship pose few barriers to the mobility of capital, the reality is also a story of the world’s richest nations continuing to reap a disproportionate amount of the globe’s profits. Contemporary analyses of global inequality, capitalism, and development would benefit from the lessons of earlier works concerned with similar questions decades before. One example is the classic work written by Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. While some contemporary accounts recognise that the problems of African countries do not lie exclusively in Africa, they do not go far enough. Piketty’s discussion of the extraction of wealth from the African continent, for example, is largely independent from his analysis of the accumulation of wealth in other parts of the globe. For Rodney, it was impossible to explain development and the accumulation of wealth in one region without deeply understanding its relations to other regions of underdevelopment and the extraction of wealth. This relation, he argued was not accidental; it was endemic to capitalism itself.

Wellbeing Economics and Buen Vivir: Development Alternatives for Inclusive Human Security
Ruttenberg T: Wellbeing Economics and Buen Vivir, XXVIII, 2013

As international development strategies struggle to address issues of human insecurity and socioeconomic inequality, inspiring alternatives are taking shape outside the traditional development discourse. The author argues that locating development strategies within the current neoliberal capitalist framework limits the possibility of success of development goals and strategies, largely designed by 'the North' and argued to be rarely successful in 'the South'. The author argues that these have potential to transform development policy in the South. This article discusses well-being economics, questioning the notion that high income and consumption constitutes genuine wealth, noting that income contributes up to the point of satisfying basic needs, after which human well-being is argued to rest on supporting the development of human potentialities through meaningful livelihoods, strengthening social relations and promoting ways of life in harmony with nature. She argues that this is being applied in the political philosophy of “buen vivir” (living well) in selected Latin American social movements and states to guide a development policy that is more inclusive of human security and their environments. The paper explores the manner in which the concept puts improvement of the quality of life, capacities and potential of the population and its harmonious coexistence with nature at the centre of the economic system, within constitutions, policies in selected countries and in relation to their impact.

WHA forms working group on IPRs and health R&D
Third World Network, 17 June 2006

After a negotiating process that lasted many days and that was closely watched by dozens of health and development NGOs, the World Health Assembly adopted a resolution on 27 May that established a working group to come up with a global strategy on intellectual property, health research and development, and new medicines for diseases that especially affect developing countries. The resolution was seen by many as the biggest achievement of this year's WHA, and was hailed by many public interest groups that had supported the developing countries, led by Kenya and Brazil, that had first advocated the resolution.

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