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30 September 2015Americas

Sanders: US must support drug patent waiver for poor countries

A US presidential hopeful for the Democratic Party has urged the US to support a request that would permanently free poor countries from their responsibility to grant patent protection for drugs.

In a letter dated September 28, Bernie Sanders asked the US Trade Representative ambassador Michael Froman to support a motion put forward to the World Trade Organization (WTO) that would preclude poorer countries from an obligation to grant patents to pharmaceutical companies for drugs.

Nations defined as least-developed countries (LDCs) by the UN are currently not obliged to grant patents for drugs under a provision that was agreed by the WTO in 2013. The waiver lasts until 2016.

But in February this year, the WTO’s LDC group submitted a motion calling for it to be made permanent. The WTO is due to meet in Geneva next month to discuss the request.

Currently there are 48 countries classified as LDC including Afghanistan, Cambodia, Ethiopia and Yemen.

Sanders wrote in the letter: “All over the world, people are finding that the prices of prescription drugs they need are rising and for many people, simply unaffordable. As a result, sick people get sicker. Some die.”

Granting such an exception, Sanders argued, would mean that “poor countries will be able to afford medicine to keep their people alive. It also means that these countries will have a better chance at building and maintaining public health infrastructure designed to contain global threats, like ebola and other contagious diseases”.

According to Sanders, the European Commission has said it will support an exception for LDC countries, but the US remains opposed.

Sanders invoked the words of Pope Francis in support of his argument.

Francis told the US Congress last week that politicians should “keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty”.

The price of drugs is currently a contentious issue in Thailand, although that is not classified as an LDC.

The Thai Network of People Living with HIV/AIDs has opposed attempts by pharma company Merck Sharp & Dohme to obtain five patents for its HIV drug Raltegravir (isentress), according to the Bangkok Post.

The existing patent for the drug is due to expire in 2025.

But the Thai group has said that if the applications are approved then it will restrict generic competitors from offering a version of the drug at a reduced price.

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Americas
20 October 2015   US President Barack Obama has been urged by several non-government organisations to permanently exempt the world’s least developed countries from having to grant patents for pharmaceutical products.

More on this story

Americas
20 October 2015   US President Barack Obama has been urged by several non-government organisations to permanently exempt the world’s least developed countries from having to grant patents for pharmaceutical products.

More on this story

Americas
20 October 2015   US President Barack Obama has been urged by several non-government organisations to permanently exempt the world’s least developed countries from having to grant patents for pharmaceutical products.