Trade negotiations between the EU and the Community of Andean Nations potentially threaten access to cheaper medicines with the EU calling for strict measures to protect intellectual property. EPHA, Health Action International and Doctors without boarders (MSF) have written to the Commission outling these fears. Meanwhile the head of GSK has outlined a new approach to health in poor countries which includes sharing GSK intellectual property. A letter from EPHA and HAI to the Guardian linked these two issues on the day of an event in the European Parliament organised by HAI.

Health Action International have commissioned research into ongoing trade negotiations between the EU and the Andean Community of Nations that examines the impact EU demands on intellectual property may have on access to medicines.

This research has given rise to a great deal of concern on whether the EU demands for rules going beyond current WTO Trade Related Intellectual Property rules (so called TRIPS plus provisions).

As a result of these concerns EPHA, HAI, and Doctors without boarders (MSF) have written to the European Commissioner for Trade seeking for a new direction on these trade negotations; one which gives a priority to public health and EU development objectives ahead of the protection of pharmeceutical intellectual property.

Meanwhile, on 13 February 2009 the head of the world’s second largest drug company, Glaxo SmithKline, told the Guardian newspaper that his company will do more for the health of the poorest in developing countries, including sharing his company’s intellectual property.

In an interview with the paper Andrew Witty, Chief Executive Officer of GSK, said that he believes drug companies have an obligation to help the poor get treatment. He also challenged other pharmaceutical giants to follow his lead.

The actions Witty outlined include the cutting of prices on all medicines in the poorest countries; the funding of hospitals, clinics and staff with drug profits and – most ground-breaking – the use of patent pools to share knowledge on potential drugs that are currently protected by patents.

The actions still fall short of what NGO campaigners on access to essential medicines have been seeking – and do not cover HIV anti-retrovirals for example – but they represent a major shift in policy, and the first time a large pharmaceutical company has moved in this manner.

In a letter to the Guardian Newspaper Monika Kosinska, Secretary General of EPHA and Tim Reed, Global director of HAI, challenged the European Commission to follow the lead set by GSK and drop their demands for strong protection of Intellectual Property in trade negotiations.

On the date of publication of this letter the concerns over these trade negotiations were reviewed in an expert meeting in the European Parliament. This meeting, coordinated by Health Action International and convened by MEPs Thijs Berman and Helmuth Markov gave an opportunity for those involved in the negotiations to give details to MEPs and question European Commission officials from DG Trade.

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