Trading Away Access to Medicines

How the European Union’s trade agenda has taken a wrong turn

Published: 19 October 2009

Access to medicines poses a critical challenge in developing countries: prices are high, and new or adapted medicines and vaccines to address diseases of the developing world are lacking. This presents a major barrier to achieving the right to health in developing countries.

More than five million people in low and middle income countries still lack access to anti-retroviral medicines to treat HIV and AIDS, and non-communicable diseases have unleashed a new epidemic of suffering across the developing world.

The European Union (EU) could play a leading role in working with developing countries to improve innovation and access to medicines. Instead, the EU has implemented a trade agenda that favors the commercial interests of the multinational pharmaceutical industry over the needs of people in developing countries. At the same time, the EU has failed to commit sufficient resources to support medical innovation to meet the public health needs of developing countries.

Key recommendations

  • Member States and the European Parliament should use their powers to ensure that the incoming Commission radically reforms its policies on trade, in order to ensure coherence with development objectives in the field of health.
  • All European donors should review their policies to maximize access to medicines in developing countries.
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