A new kind of drug war: Humanitarian agency calls foul on EC trade protections

International humanitarian aid organization Médecins Sans Frontières/ Doctors Without Borders, says new policies advanced by the European Trade Commission will hurt people in developing countries that depend on generic medicines for survival.

The European Trade Commission (EC) has negotiated tougher intellectual property rules and other provisions that affect generic and counterfeit medicines as well as broader provisions on copyright infringement on the Internet.  It published the text of the agreement today, subject to legal review. The EC negotiated on behalf of all European Union member nations and was joined by Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland, and the United States.

Dr. Unni Karunakara, president of MSF’s International Council, said the agency “cannot remain silent” as Europe negotiates trade deals that curtail the supply of generic drugs made in India. MSF took special aim at the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement – ACTA – which it said places severe restrictions on the production and supply of generic medicines.

“We depend on access to affordable generic medicines like those produced in India to treat all kinds of diseases,” said Karunakara. “We buy 80 percent of our AIDS medicines from India – medicines that keep 160,000 people alive today.”

The European Trade Commission said in a press statement: “ACTA aims to establish a comprehensive international framework that will assist Parties to the agreement in their efforts to effectively combat the infringement of intellectual property rights, in particular the proliferation of counterfeiting and piracy, which undermines legitimate trade and the sustainable development of the world economy.”

MSF has launched a write-in campaign directed at European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht demanding that the Commission reverse parts of the agreement that reduce production of affordable generic medicines and call for the detention of generic medicines in transit through Europe on their way to developing countries.  

Kathlyn Stone

Kathlyn Stone is a Twin Cities, Minnesota-based writer who has covered general news, and business, international trade, and health care news and policies for public and professional audiences.