Prescription for relief

Published: Tuesday 15 July 2003

Even as negotiations on the relaxation of international patent protection rules enshrined in the World Trade Organization (wto) remain deadlocked, the eu has adopted a law that will provide 76 developing countries access to cheaper drugs. The affordable medicines will help the beneficiary nations, including India, to combat hiv/aids, malaria and tuberculosis.

The regulation aims to encourage pharmaceutical companies to sell their products in developing country markets at prices substantially lower than those prevalent in developed nations. The European Commission -- the executive arm of the eu -- will maintain a list of such drugs, comprising patented as well as generic versions. Only medicines that are priced at either a quarter of the average 'ex-factory' price in developed countries, or at 15 per cent over the cost of production would qualify.

Exporters have so far been wary of such differential pricing for fear that their products would be diverted back to the lucrative developed country markets. The regulation, however, plugs this loophole by banning the re-entry of the drugs into the eu. A logo that would enable the customs to identify the special drug consignments will be used as a safeguard.

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