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  The cost of health
  Fighting for the world's poor
  Developing drugs for the developing world


Fighting for the world's poor

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Charities are keeping up the pressure on drugs firms to make more life-saving, but expensive medicines available to the world's poor.

The campaign, started by medical aid agency Medecins sans Frontieres, has highlighted the plight of people in developing countries who are often being advised to save for their funerals because the cost of drugs is beyond their budgets.

Now charities are putting pressure on the World Trade Organization to change its patent rules to allow developing countries to produce cheaper generic versions of drugs that fight deadly diseases like AIDS.

Charities want an international fund to be established which could subsidise purchases and reduce costs by bulk buying.

Other proposals include:
• More company research into infectious diseases, in co-ordination with publicly-funded researchers
• A World Health Organization-sponsored worldwide classification of markets, together with guidelines for pricing agreed by all large companies

As well as raising the profile of the problem among the world's media, charities have compiled research, copies of which have been sent to major institutional investors in the sector.

The WHO says 11 billion people die every year from preventable diseases. Such statistics have prompted some investors to suggest that drug companies are in danger of losing their "social contract."

Changing the rules

The UK-based charity Oxfam has accused drug firms of "conducting an undeclared drug war" against the world's poorest countries.

A spokesman for Oxfam told that the charity was not against profits or against drug patents, which keep prices high, but the rules needed to be changed.

He said that with profit ratios of 35% among drug firms, there was room for manoeuvre.

According to a U.S. Senate report, pharmaceutical firms come top of the league in terms of the size of profits in relation to sales and rate of return on capital and on shareholder equity.

Oxfam has targeted GlaxoSmithKline because, as well as being a market leader, it has said it is committed to getting affordable medicines to poor people.

The firm has promised to improve access to discounted HIV/AIDS drugs in poor countries by supplying medicines to non-profit-making organisations -- a move described by Oxfam as a "welcome step".

However the charity's spokesman noted that drugs were needed for many other killer diseases and that the philanthropic move could distract from the central issue of a government's right to find the most cost effective way of obtaining drugs.

The charity would prefer GlaxoSmithKline to set an example to the rest of the industry by abandoning legal battles and forgoing patent privileges in the developing world.

Oxfam argues that effective social responsibility must go beyond isolated acts of charity and address the root problem of affordability.

Oxfam: Drug firms waging war on poor
Feb. 12, 2001
In-depth: AIDS -- Africa in Peril

Oxfam International
Oxfam's Cut the Cost campaign
AIDS Foundation of South Africa

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