HC Deb 23 June 2003 vol 407 cc531-2W
Mr. Caton

To ask the Minister of State, Department for International Development what actions the Government is taking to assist African nations to produce their own generic pharmaceutical drugs. [119192]

Hilary Benn

The UK Government are committed to significantly improving access to medicines, both branded and generic, in developing countries. We need to work with others, including our G8 partners, to tackle the issues affecting access if we are to make lasting improvements.

The factors recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that can improve poor peoples' access to medicines are: affordable pricing, sustainable financing, reliable health and supply systems, and the rational selection and use of existing drugs.

In line with this, since May 1997, DFID has committed over £1.5 billion since 1997 to support the strengthening of health and supply systems in developing countries, which will help to build capacity to deliver medicines to the poor and to make effective choices about the selection of drugs. The UK has also pledged $280 million to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM). This will help pay for increased access to medicines for the three diseases and some associated health systems strengthening.

My predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) chaired a High Level Working Group on Increasing Access to Essential Medicines in the Developing World, which examined the key factors above in detail. The Working Group made a series of recommendations for action, which are being taking forward by a number of other stakeholders.

The recent G8 Summit at Evian also secured commitment to action on these issues in line with the Working Group's recommendations.

With regard to generic production in particular the UK is also engaged in seeking a solution to the outstanding mandate from the Doha Declaration on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and Public Health—the issue of how countries with insufficient or no manufacturing capacity in the pharmaceutical sector can make effective use of compulsory licensing procedures within the TRIPS Agreement. It is important to find a solution to this issue, both for its own sake and in order to allow the international community to focus on the many other issues affecting access to medicines.

On the wider question of trade and transfer of technology, within the WTO, the Doha Declaration mandated a new WTO Working Group to examine the relationship between trade and transfer of technology, including possible recommendations on steps that might be taken within the mandate of the WTO to increase flows of technology to developing countries. The UK Government takes the view that as a general rule, the transfer of technology is most effectively facilitated through the provision of open markets and good regulation.