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Featured Content: June 02, 2003

Press Briefing by Médecins Sans Frontières With Bernard Pecoul

Monday, 2 June, 2003, 11am
G8 Evian Summit, Publier Media Centre

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At a press conference given today in Evian Dr Bernard Pecoul, director of Médicins Sans Frontières' Access to Medicines Campaign, offered his critical analysis of the impressive commitments to health issues in the developing world that was offered up yesterday by the G8 countries following their meeting with the heads of states of 12 developing nations Sunday afternoon.

Dr Pecoul noted that of the 15 billion dollars of aid signed into law by American President Bush, 5 billion dollars is "old money", previously committed to the issue area. Of the remaining 10 billion, the 1 billion potentially destined for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) has not yet been appropriated by congress and thus, "still does not exist". Equally, the details on the breakdown of the remaining 9 billion is still not established.

The details of the aid allocation is essential to its effectiveness, emphasized Dr Pecoul. In the case of the US contribution, one third is relegated uniquely to groups advocating abstinence. Moreover, it is urgent to address the intellectual property rights issue. If the new donations are spent buying the patented medications of northern corporations, rather then generic, locally produced products, costs will be between 4 to 6 times higher. The patent laws represent a point of hypocrisy, since during the anthrax crisis last year, the US and Canada did not hesitate to override patent laws to protect their citizens. At the same time, less then 36,000 Africans receive price cut HIV/AIDS drugs today which accounts for less then 0.01% of those infected on the continent. Dr Pecoul indicated his misgiving about any major change in the terms of trade resulting from the summit. Indeed, journalists present noted that the massive bilateral contributions coming out of the talks may in fact have a divisive effect on coordinated health aid, since they may draw the dialogue outside the framework of the Doha rules, which are essential to developing a long-term, legally defensible fair trade regime.

In addition, Dr Pecoul underlined four key points in the development of a sustainable, effective strategy for the third world health crisis. Firstly, he noted that the political will is essential in both the northern, G8 countries as well as in the developing states. South Africa desperately needs a coordinated, national strategy and President Thabo Mbeki has consistently refused to undertake such a project. Equally, India and China would do well to undertake a similar initiative. Secondly, African states as well as G8 leaders need to take advantage of the flexibility within world trade laws, starting with Doha, to use them to their best advantage for lowering the price of medication. In a third area, the research and development process needs to be overhauled to give fair attention to the diseases of the developing world. The current prescription for TB was developed in 1960, and the most common treatment dates from almost a century ago. Even AIDS research has concentrating on treatment for complex varieties of disease present in the North. What is needed is simple, basic treatments in order to help the millions of poor affected by the disease. Finally, in order to initiate a long-term improvement, investment needs to be made not only in technological infrastructure, but in the technical training of the people. Any technological transfer must be carefully adapted to each cultural context. Donor countries must understand how delicate this essential action is and accordingly undertake a comprehensive initiative in the transfer and sensibilisation of new technology.