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WTO to Allow Access to Cheap Drug Treatments

August 31, 2003|From Associated Press

GENEVA — After an impassioned appeal from Africa, the World Trade Organization sealed a deal Saturday to allow poor countries to import cheap copies of patented drugs for killer diseases such as AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

The United States has been trying to protect the interests of drug companies, which feared they could lose control of patent rights. U.S. concessions last week broke an eight-month deadlock on the issue.

The final breakthrough followed a meeting Friday during which representatives of many African countries pleaded with other diplomats to stop trying to win last-minute advantages for their own nations.

In a joint statement, they noted that nearly 2.2 million Africans have died of AIDS and other diseases since the issue became deadlocked Dec. 16.

Under WTO rules, countries facing public health crises have the right to override drug patents. However, until now they could only order from domestic producers, and most developing countries have no domestic pharmaceutical industry.

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