October 27, 2015 | Access to Medicines


The U.S. Should Stop Blocking Uganda’s Access to Affordable Medicines


Despite US Opposition, Uganda and all Least Developed Countries Seek Exemption on Implementing Monopoly Rights for Drug Companies in Order to Cut Drug Prices and Save Lives

(Kampala) – Civil society today harshly criticized the US government for efforts to obstruct Least Developed Countries (LDCs), the 34 poorest countries in the world, from securing an exemption from protection and enforcement of patents and other forms of intellectual property rights on pharmaceuticals, for as long as they remain LDCs. Civil society argues that the US government approach to essential medicines sharply contradicts what it preaches under its bilateral AIDS program, PEPFAR.

The government of Uganda has played a key role in championing this request by LDCs, along with the governments of Nepal and Bangladesh, in negotiations before the World Trade Organization’s body responsible for protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights (known as the “TRIPS Council”) in Geneva.

According to civil society groups, negotiations have reached an impasse and there is a serious risk LDCs will be forced to accept the demands of the US, despite the negative impact this will have on access to essential medicines in the poorest countries in the world and despite the fact that the U.S. is completely alone in its opposition to the LDCs’ position. By contrast, the LDCs’ request for a permanent waiver before the WTO has attracted unconditional support from all member states of the European Union and technical experts including the World Health Organization, UNAIDS and UNDP.

“President Obama is on the wrong side of this battle—from a human rights perspective, from a public health perspective, and from the perspective of economic development in poor countries,” said Kenneth Mwehonge of HEPS Uganda. “While the US bilateral AIDS program PEPFAR is searching for ways to reduce the cost of life saving treatment for HIV, US trade negotiators are trying to block nations from defending and promoting the human rights of people suffering without access to medicines. This contradiction is deeply troubling.”

“US government pressure on Uganda and other LDCs is shameful,” said Asia Russell of Health GAP. “President Obama should welcome the LDC focus on production of generic medicines instead of siding with the pharmaceutical lobby.”

US government negotiators are demanding a time­limited, ten­year extension from LDCs. “Ten years is nothing,” said Moses Mulumba, Executive Director of CEHURD. “First of all, a permanent waiver is the only approach that provides the legal certainty needed by generic suppliers so that LDCs will remain a viable market for newer medicines. LDCs need much longer time periods in order to secure investments in long­term generic supply and to promote strong local production of life saving medicines.​Secondly, longer time p​eriods are required to make it worthwhile to change legal and regulatory regimes. Thirdly, ​the rules of the WTO are clear—as long as a request is ‘duly motivated’ by another Member of the WTO, the request s​hall​be granted. The US is simply not playing fair with LDCs, and lives are at stake.”

On September 10 the head of trade for the European Commission released a statement on behalf of the European Union stating its unconditional support for the LDC request, calling intellectual property rights protection a ‘non issue’ whenever access to medicines is at stake (see: http://europa.eu/rapid/press­release_IP­15­5620_en.htm)​. On September 30 President Uhuru Kenyatta released a statement in support of the request as well—Kenya is n​ot a​n LDC but has expressed its support for generic manufacturing capacity in the region, in particular from Uganda.

Informal talks are expected to start again Wednesday October 28 in Geneva, between the governments of the US, Uganda, Bangladesh and Nepal. According to the United Nations, more than 70 percent of the LDC population lives on less than $2 per day and an estimated 252 million people in LDCs live with hunger. World Bank data from 2014 reports that only 36 percent of least developed countries have access to improved sanitation facilities while 68 percent have access to improved drinking water source. As of 2012, two thirds of people in LDCs lacked access to electricity. In 2014, GNI per capita for LDCs was US $915, compared to US $55,200 for the United States.