Press Advisory: NGO letters to WHO & WTO on Dutch seizures of generic medicines in-transit from India to Brazil, Colombia & Peru

February 19, 2009

Press Advisory on NGO letters to WHO and WTO on topic of Dutch seizures of generic medicines in-transit from India to Brazil, Colombia and Peru.

In response to news about four seizures of generic medicines manufactured in India and shipped through the Netherlands in route to Brazil, Colombia and Peru, sixteen public health, consumer and development NGOs have sent separate letters to the heads of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO).

WTO Director General Pascal Lamy was asked to “explore with the European Union the extent to which its customs rules and provisions in trade agreements present risks to goods in transit, and undermine the commitments made in 2001 in the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health concerning access to medicines.”

WHO Director General Margaret Chan was asked to “immediately undertake an assessment of the risks to public health programs presented by such seizures and any anti-goods-in-transit provisions that exist in current or proposed trade agreements, including those relating to anti-counterfeiting initiatives.” In doing the assessment, the WHO as asked to “interview developing country governments, UN agencies and other entities engaged in the trans-border delivery of generic medicines to developing countries, to fully document the extent to which medicines in transit are at risk regarding seizure or liability for infringement.”

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*The 16 groups are: BUKO Pharma-Kampagne, Consumers International, Consumers Union, Essential Action, HAI Africa, HAI Asia Pacific, HAI Europe, HAI Global, HAI Latin America and Caribbean, Health GAP, IQsensato, Knowledge Ecology International, Medico International, Oxfam International, Third World Network and U.S. PIRG.

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The two letters are available here:

http://www.keionline.org/misc-docs/seizures/WHO_seizures_18feb.pdf

http://www.keionline.org/misc-docs/seizures/WTO_seizures_18feb.pdf

The following are additional comments by groups signing the letters:

Consumers International, Bjarne Pedersen, (44 207 226 66 63, bpedersen@consint.org). ” “Its time for the EU to get its message straight on the issue of access to medicines. Actions such as this totally undermine the spirit of the TRIPS agreement and prevent medicines reaching those who need them most.”

HAI Asia Pacific, Kumariah Balasubramaniam, (+94 112 554353, bala@haiap.org ). “One hand of the Dutch government supports developing countries’ right to promote access to medicines (Doha Declaration para 4) while the other hand takes away life-saving medicines from reaching the suffering patients in Brazil,Colombia and Peru.”

HAI Europe, Teresa Alves, (+31 20 683 3684, teresa@haiweb.org). “This situation presents the opportunity to have the EU reconsider its aims in the area of IP enforcement as these are clearly not in the spirit of the international consensus to give priority to public health but instead erects barriers to legitimate trade”.

HAI Global, Tim Reed, (+31 20 683 3684, tim@haiweb.org). “It is time that the World Health Organization, the institution that we look to for a lead in international health and development gave strong and clear guidance on the interpretation of international trade agreements that so adversely affect health. The health of millions of people worldwide who depend on life-saving quality assured generic medicines will be in jeopardy unless action is taken now by the World Trade Organization to give clear guidance to its Members on goods in transit. This situation cannot be allowed to continue.”

Health GAP, Brook Baker, (office: +1 617-373-3217, mobile +1 617-259-0760, B.Baker@neu.edu). “The unwarranted seizure of medicines in transit by Dutch customs officials was instigated by DuPont and Merck who falsely claimed that the medicines posed a threat to their patent and marketing rights in the Netherlands. So far, far too little attention has been directed at these corporate criminals who are acting with impunity to thwart lawful generic competition even in countries of export and import (India and Latin America) where their patents and marketing rights have no effect. This embargo of medicines, at the frivolous behest of drug company bullies, is not only a direct violation of the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health that prioritizes access to medicines for all, it is also an unconscionable violation of the human right of access to essential medicines enshrined in multiple international treaties.”

IQsensato, Nicoletta Dentico, (mobile +39 338 53 468 53, nicoletta@iqsensato.org) “The Dutch seizures of medicines in transit to countries in dire need is a precedent that must be challenged without hesitation. Once again, Europe’s bias towards enforcing trade measures that go beyond the requirements of the WTO agreements reveals its determination to undermine the policy space of developing countries which act in accordance with international norms. The fact that access to medicines should remain the battleground of this cynicism, despite the advanced international debate and the new strategies adopted at the WHO in this field, is particularly unpalatable”.

Knowledge Ecology, James Love, (office +1 202-332-2670, mobile +1 202-361-3040, james.love@keionline.org) “In a world with territorial patent rights, it is important that the rules for ‘goods in transit’ permit the transport of medicines from places where they can be made to places where they will be used. The Dutch seizures have drawn attention to this issue, as has the recent disclosure of MSF that they regularly transport and temporarily store medicines in Europe, in route to uses in developing countries. We expect the leaders of the WHO and the WTO to lead on this issue.”

Oxfam International, Elise Ford, (Tel: +32 (0) 2 502 1941, Mob: + 32 (0) 479 464 980, Elise.Ford@oxfaminternational.org). “Oxfam is concerned with what appears to be confusion between counterfeit medicines that kill people and generic medicines that save lives. The EC has declared its support for access to medicines and the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health. To honor those commitments, the EC should immediately review and modify its counterfeiting regulation if the regulation wrongfully allows European countries to seize legal generic medicines that are merely transiting through Europe. It is nonsensical that a regulation intended to save lives could instead be jeopardizing the ability of doctors and nurses in developing countries to protect them. To assist in this urgent review, Oxfam also calls upon the leaders of WTO and WHO to provide clear leadership to ensure that affordable medicines can reach poor people in developing countries.”

Third World Network, Sangeeta Shashikant (office: +41 22 908 3550, mobile: +41 78 757 2331, sangeeta@myjaring.net). “The Dutch seizures made pursuant to the EC Regulations are very disturbing. It raises questions about the sincerity of EC in ensuring unhampered timely access to medicines in developing countries.”

– James Love, Director, Knowledge Ecology International http://www.keionline.org | mailto:james.love at keionline.org Wk: +1.202.332.2671 | US Mobile +1.202.361.3040 | Geneva Mobile +41.76.413.6584