French officials offered sharp criticism of the United States' efforts to derail a World Trade Organization proposal that would allow poor countries to circumvent patents on key medicines and either manufacture or import generic versions of the drugs, Agence France-Presse reports. "Given the urgency of the health crisis, it is critical that we quickly reach agreement on the essentials," said French junior commerce minister Francois Loos. "Countries that would block an accord would be politically responsible for the failure."
U.S. officials are opposed to a draft of the proposal currently under consideration because they believe the language of the document is too vague and should be reworded to specifically focus only on "infectious" diseases so that poor countries would not be able to make generic anti-cancer drugs and medications to treat other noninfectious diseases. At least 17 other WTO members, including the European Union, say they support the current draft of the proposal without the language change.
The WTO is working to meet a self-imposed December 31 deadline to allow poor nations access to generic drugs to treat AIDS, malaria, and other diseases after a WTO working group last year ruled that developing nations have a right to override patents during public health emergencies. It is unclear whether debate on the issue will continue in 2003 if the WTO fails to meet its December 31 deadline.