Every day 35,000 people die from diseases such as AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, leishmaniasis. They die from the so-called neglected diseases that afflict millions in those regions of the world that are kept in poverty. The term "neglected" only badly cloaks the actual scandal: No research has been conducted, partly for decades, on those drugs that would be necessary for the treatment of these diseases. The reason reveals a peculiar cynicism: Because these people lack purchasing power, there is no market which would let expenditure on research appear profitable. This is a matter of a blatant case of failure to render assistance to millions of people. But the dramatic consequences are not limited to the southern countries. On a global scale, Tuberculosis is once again on the advance. Only recently a TB-bacillus appeared which is drug-resistant to any hitherto existing medicines.
It is certain: The premature death of annually 12 million human beings could be avoided if states and international institutions such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) were prepared for a fundamental rethinking-process. Research, development and production of medicines essential to survival are to be regarded as a global public good. Those who only promote privatisation of healthcare and hope for the invisible hand of the market, recklessly neglects the human right to life.
The current system of research and development of essential medicines has failed. Three quarters of the drugs newly released on the market every year bring no additional therapeutic benefit. A mere one per cent is dedicated to poverty-related illnesses. Instead of developing life-saving drugs against the diseases of poverty, firms conduct research for lifestyle-compounds against hair-loss, obesity and erection-problems. They have a solvent audience and promise profit margins accordingly. Simultaneously, global patent laws, controlled by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), prevent the production of low-cost drugs for the poor. Instead of innovation for the purpose of the sick, patent law has degenerated into a type of protective barrier for pharmaceutical companies that already own power over global markets.
We urgently need to rethink the global policy on medicines. medico works towards this aim. The access to essential medicines must be unconditionally ensured. Like school-books, newspapers, and public transport, medicine is part of a “social infrastructure”, without which societies do not function. Setting priorities in research and development as well as assuring a low-cost access to medicines necessary for survival is a public task. It is essential to create incentives beyond patent law to induce universities and pharmaceutical firms to develop such medicines. An internationally binding contract should oblige states to provide the necessary means. One step towards this is a global skeleton plan for research and development, the compilation of which was approved by the WHO general assembly in May 2006 resulting from a joint initiative by Kenya and Brazil. The first working group met in December 2006 to fix appropriate criteria.
We call upon the German federal government to speak for medicines as a public good in the context of this debate. Together with health-initiatives and NGOs across the globe we want to ascertain that from now on not patents but patients come first.