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Meanwhile, EU, Japan carry on without us
At December’s meeting of the G-8 in Okinawa, Japan, countries and organizations came together with the aim of figuring out how to plug in the rhetoric generated at the G-8 Summit back in July.
Reports from the follow-up suggest that the European Union, in particular, returned with a solid plan of action in hand, says Ellen t Hoen, a Dutch lawyer who provides legal counsel for the Medecins San Frontiers (known in the United States as Doctors Without Borders) Access to Essential Medicines Campaign. The campaign has pushed hard for lower prices for existing drugs and more money to spur development for new drugs.
At a July summit, the European Union and Japan had both made substantial financial commitments to fighting TB, malaria, and HIV/AIDS. The United States, by comparison, had promised only modest amounts of help.
"The EU council resolution is now moving into an action plan with a big budget, and the plan looks quite promising," she says. "More than just money, there are concrete plans and research activities."
The Americans were comparatively low-key at the follow-up meeting, adds t Hoen. "There wasn’t much in the way of a concrete commitment" at the second round, she says. She added that Americans at the meeting still appear to subscribe to the belief that the pharmaceutical industry, left to its own devices, will eventually get around to fixing problems on their own.
"What the U.S. doesn’t seem to acknowledge is that the market is failing for people in poor countries, and that it will continue to do so," she says. "That’s why you need active government involvement and public investment. We were very disappointed."
So much for the next four years
Whatever participants at the follow-up meeting may have been thinking, they refrained from confronting the Americans, says t Hoen, because U.S. election results were still up in the air at the time of the conference. "We didn’t know what kind of U.S. we were talking about," she says. "Now, we do — one in which increased investment for drugs that will benefit people in Africa and Asia looks bad."
The trouble with a revved-up EU and a laid-back United States is that the combination won’t be enough to move drug research forward at the speed it ought to be going, says t Hoen. "The EU and Japan can’t do this alone," she says. "What we really need is global solidarity and support, and we don’t have that yet."
One thing the Americans could do right away is to put some money into the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development, she points out. So far, the only contributor to the alliance has been Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who gave the organization $25 million in start-up money.
Still, t Hoen concedes, there is reason for continued hope. This July, when the G-8 is scheduled to hold its next general meeting, infectious diseases will be back on the agenda. That in itself is a step forward, t Hoen adds.