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WHO-WTO expert workshop explores poor countries' access to affordable drugs

WHO-WTO expert workshop explores poor countries' access to affordable drugs

Efforts to cut the cost of essential drugs in developing countries are getting a boost as experts from the medical and financial fields join forces at a joint World Health Organization (WHO)/World Trade Organization (WTO) workshop currently under way in Norway.

The workshop on affordable drugs, which began yesterday and will run through Wednesday in Høsbjør, Norway, drew the participation of WHO Director-General Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS, and Adrian Otten, Director of WTO's Intellectual Property Division, all of whom addressed the gathering this morning.

According to the WTO, the workshop aims to explore "the full range of obstacles that developing countries face in obtaining essential drugs, both patented and generic."

Experts will tackle the question of differential pricing -- sometimes called "tiered or "equity" pricing -- a practice which involves charging less for medicines in poor countries.

"The workshop will explore the conditions that would provide a win-win situation -- one that would benefit everyone involved," the WTO said.

"Many people think that differential pricing can be beneficial to the consumer in the poorer country, but not be harmful -- and may even be beneficial -- to the consumer in the rich country," explained WHO expert Jonathan Quick.

Mary Partlow of the Global Health Council, a United States non-governmental organization which organized the event, explained that it would deal with -- but not be limited to -- drugs to help treat AIDS. "The workshop covers all essential medications, such as those needed to fight tuberculosis, malaria and other infectious and tropical diseases," she told the UN News Service.

Ms. Partlow said the meeting was "definitely a step forward" in the process of making key medicines available to all who need them.