Vatican Regrets Lack of Deal to Cut Medicine Prices for Poor Nations

Talks Collapse at World Trade Organization Summit in Geneva

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 22, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The Vatican lamented the failure of talks within the World Trade Organization to reach a deal on lower-priced medicines for poor countries.



Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, permanent observer of the Vatican to the WTO, criticized the slowness of the talks, given the health emergency raging in many of those nations.

The marathon of negotiations continued in Geneva longer than anticipated -- until dawn on Saturday. Many of the 144 countries of the WTO expressed their disappointment over the impasse.

U.S. representatives opposed a proposed agreement because they said the production of generic medicines would lead to the violation of many patents held by pharmaceutical firms. The U.S. delegation, however, said it was willing to make an exception only in the cases of malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis.

The principle of allowing poor countries to develop cheaper versions of pharmaceutical products was agreed by the WTO at the Doha meeting in 2001.

Speaking over Vatican Radio, Archbishop Martin explained that this decision is especially grave for countries that do not have their own pharmaceutical industry and, as a result, have to import medicines.

On Friday night, at the height of the debate, the Vatican addressed the assembly to express its profound concern over this "humanitarian and ethical question, which cannot be reduced only to a technical and economic problem."

Archbishop Martin said the failure of the negotiations is grave, because at the Doha meeting it was decided to reach an agreement before the end of 2002.

"This event reminds me of John Paul II's message for the World Day of Peace: In order to create a new moral international order, one of the conditions is to keep the commitments assumed, especially with the poor," the archbishop said.

He identified the greatest problem as the "slowness" in moving from good intentions to deeds.

"In the Doha declaration it was recognized that the protection of intellectual property [the patents] cannot create obstacles to a poor country's capacity to respond to a crisis in the field of public health," the archbishop stressed.

"All agree that this is the fundamental principle and in the negotiation of these days this principle has remained," he said. "The problem is the slowness of a concrete response. Meanwhile, millions of people die, and many are destined to suffer from curable illnesses."

Archbishop Martin concluded by reminding the audience of the Catholic Church's full commitment in this field.

"Through many hospitals and clinics connected with the Church, the Vatican continues to offer its service of assistance," he said. "Also at the world level, it is highly committed in international organizations."

"I have followed this negotiation closely and I am optimistic that perhaps at the beginning of the new year a compromise and consensus will be reached," Archbishop Martin concluded. "It might not be what many hoped for, but what is important is to get out of this stagnant situation."