by VR Sreeraman on  July 25, 2009 at 12:09 PM General Health News
 Mercosur Urges For Patent-Free Swine Flu Treatments
The Mercosur trade bloc demanded to be exempted from paying patent rights for drugs to combat the swine flu pandemic that has been particularly deadly in South America.

In their final declaration of a summit meeting, the leaders of the bloc's member states urged for the application of a provision in a World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement on intellectual property that provides some flexibility on paying patents to protect public health.

Mercosur also urged the World Health Organization (WHO) to "coordinate efforts to expand production capacity for affordable vaccines, antiviral drugs and diagnostics."

Representatives of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela participated in the summit.

The statement said that the swine flu treatments were "global public goods" and that the goal was to "achieve coverage for the entire population."

"The manufacture of these products should be facilitated to the greatest possible number of centers," the statement said, so that all governments, of both developed and developing nations, may meet the needs of their people.

Argentine President Cristina Kirchner said earlier that "suspending" patents from the production of vaccines against the influenza A(H1N1) virus could save millions of lives.

Using patent rights to preserve an economic advantage in this case "would condemn millions of people to death," Kirchner said at the trade meeting.

Argentina has recorded 165 swine flu deaths, second only in fatalities to the United States, which has confirmed 263 deaths according to the latest official data.

Kirchner stressed that her country and neighboring Brazil have the capacity to produce the vaccine. She also said she was not suggesting the vaccine be produced for free.

Governments represented at the Mercosur summit agreed to strengthen the network of laboratories for early detection, as well as to develop vaccines "with a new regulatory approach to ensure access for the population."

They also pledged to coordinate between regional ministries of health and agencies related to innovation, technology transfer and capacity to encourage regional production of vaccines and antiviral drugs against the A(H1N1) virus.

The virus has continued to spread across Latin America during the hemisphere's winter months, with Chile this week also upping its death toll from 40 to 68.

Argentina's government has already sought a partnership with Brazil to produce a vaccine, according to Argentine Science and Technology Minister Lino Baranao.

Concerns were voiced at regional talks in Buenos Aires earlier this month that vaccines expected to be available in September or October were pre-destined for the United States, Europe, Australia and other richer nations.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva meanwhile proposed that Latin American health ministers meet in Quito on August 9 for talks with the WTO and laboratories to develop a joint strategy.

He had announced on Thursday that Brazil would produce vaccines for the southern hemisphere winter in 2010.

The WHO said Friday that swine flu has spread to nearly every corner of the globe, affecting 160 out of 193 of the world health body's member states. About 800 people have died from the pandemic, it added.

Source: AFP

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