HC Deb 07 February 2001 vol 362 cc916-7
6. Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon)

If she will make a statement on her Department's plans to encourage investment in research and development of drugs and vaccines to treat the major diseases which affect people in developing countries. [147643]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

We are working with others to encourage the development of better drugs and vaccines for the major diseases of poverty, such as HIV/AIDS—for which there should be a vaccine within 10 years—malaria and tuberculosis. We are also focusing on the development of universal primary health care systems. Most of the poor of the world are not in touch with a health system that can deliver drugs to them, let alone improved drugs. We must develop on both fronts.

Ms Drown

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and for the good work that the Government are doing in this field. Does my right hon. Friend agree that although drug companies need to make profits, they are under a moral obligation to make life-saving drugs available? Rather than mounting legal challenges against poor countries which are trying to import cheaper drugs, should not drug companies be making life-saving drugs affordable for the millions of people at risk from AIDS and other diseases?

Clare Short

I agree that we must ensure that the best drugs are available to people across the world. However, the World Health Organisation has a list of the 90 basic drugs that a country needs; almost all of them have no patent or copyright. The problem is that people are not in touch with health systems.

Anti-retroviral drugs simply delay death from HIV, they do not cure the disease. Glaxo and other companies have said that they will make such drugs available at cost price. Even so, they are still expensive and most developing countries cannot afford them. However, I agree with my hon. Friend's fundamental point that there should not be legal clashes between companies and Governments. We should reach agreement to look at the benefits to the poor, and that is what we are trying to encourage across the world.