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WHO Head Joins Chorus Denouncing TPP's Blow to Public Health, Boon to Big Pharma

Adding to the chorus of voices sounding alarm on the impacts of the pending TransPacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday that there were “some very serious concerns” regarding the 12-nation pact. 

Speaking to a conference in Geneva, Margaret Chan mentioned concern “about interference by powerful economic operators,” and said, “I have been hearing some serious concerns that the TransPacific Partnership, the biggest trade agreement ever, may adversely affect the market for generics and biosimilars and increase the cost of medicines.”

Repeating a comment she made in 2014, Chan asked, “If these agreements open trade yet close the door to affordable medicines we have to ask the question: is this really progress at all?”

“High prices block access,” she added.

Tim Fernholz reported for Quartz Monday that the U.S., through the TPP, was exporting Big Pharma-friendly policies that keep drug prices high:

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As economist Dean Baker wrote this year ahead of the release of the official text, “the leaked intellectual property chapter indicates several extension of patent and related monopoly protections that would be expected to raise prices. Of course it is not ‘certain’ that the effect will be to raise drug prices, just as it is not certain that shooting someone at close range will lead to their death.”

“Patent monopolies,” he wrote in a separate post, “provide both enormous incentive and opportunity for drug companies to increase profits at the expense of patients.”

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz spoke about the issue on Thursday as well, telling Democracy Now!, “TPP, I think, is a very big mistake.” He echoed Chan’s concern that failure to lower generic drug prices will mean “many millions of people will be left behind.”

Other medical groups have joined the WHO in expressing concern over the deal, with professor Heather Yeatman, president of the Public Health Association of Australia, saying, “The TPP will be a blow for global health if it places life-saving medicines out of reach in developing countries.”

And Judit Rius Sanjuan, U.S. manager and legal policy adviser of the Médecins Sans Frontières Access Campaign said last month: “The big losers in the TPP are patients and treatment providers in developing countries. Although the text has improved over the initial demands, the TPP will still go down in history as the worst trade agreement for access to medicines in developing countries, which will be forced to change their laws to incorporate abusive intellectual property protections for pharmaceutical companies.”

World governments finally made public the full text of the TPP last week, and it was immediately denounced by advocacy groups as “a disaster” and “worse than anything we could’ve imagined.”

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