EU countries turn a blind eye to non-Europeans' struggles for medicines

Published: 29th January 2024

Today, EU countries agreed on a renewed EU global health strategy - the EU’s global vision for funding and international cooperation in relation to health. 
In response, Oxfam EU health expert, Piotr Kolczynski, said:  

“In the EU’s Health Commissioner's own words, where you live should not determine whether you live or die. But EU countries only pay heed to these words within Europe’s borders. In the rest of the world, the EU is playing the industry's game and undermining the right to health of the world's poorest people. 

“This new strategy shows that EU countries turn a blind eye to the unequal access to vaccines and medicines, which led to millions of preventable deaths from COVID-19 and other diseases. Their silence on patents and refusal to share technology or know-how shows zero learning from the pandemic. This approach is a barrier for poorer countries that want to foster manufacturing and control medical supplies.  

“Nice-sounding words do nothing to challenge a system increasingly captured by commercial interests and one that puts profits before patients. This EU strategy does nothing to bring us closer to a world where everyone can see a doctor and get treated on time.”  

Notes to editors

Piotr Kolczynski is available for comment and interview.  

In November 2022, the European Commission published its EU Global Health Strategy. Oxfam already called on the EU to take this opportunity to put health before Big Pharma’s interests. 

The main inconsistencies between the EU countries’ conclusions on the global health strategy and EU actions are:   

  • EU countries call for “concrete action to promote global health across relevant sectors, including (…) trade”. But at the same time, they put pressure on India and Indonesia to agree on tougher intellectual property and exclusivity rules — known as TRIPS+ — in their trade negotiations.  
  • On paper, EU countries explicitly address “equitable access to affordable quality health products” and declare their support for “local manufacturing.” But in practice, they fiercely block any attempts by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) members to share health technologies with producers from poor countries. Despite the words on paper, EU countries are still doing their best to ensure that control remains in the hands of Big Pharma. This leads to low and middle-income countries making new medicines from scratch, for example, the mRNA hub in South Africa.  
  • EU countries claim that “the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic (…) point to the need for a renewed approach to global health…”. But their proposals for the pandemic treaty negotiated at the WHO only suggest business as usual, i.e. keeping poor countries dependent on rich ones.  

Oxfam is a part of the People’s Vaccine Alliance , which works to improve global access to medicines.   

Contact information

Jade Tenwick | Brussels, Belgium | | mobile +32 473 562260    

Julia Manresa | Brussels, Belgium | | mobile +32 473 87 44 26     


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