Global trade system fails Australia on medicines, need for local production capacity

May 27, 2024: Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) lists 423 medicines in short supply to the Australian people. Twenty of these are at critically low levels, including medicines such as blood thinners, antibiotics and menopause hormone replacement therapy (HRT) patches.

These shortages were apparent before the COVID-19 pandemic but it was the pandemic which provoked some serious discussion.

In July 2023 a Medicines Supply Security Guarantee was introduced by the Labor government which required manufacturers to keep at least four or six months supply in Australia for key medicines, but apparently this is not being enforced. 

World Health Assembly agrees on Health Regulations but future pandemics agreement talks to continue for a year

June 6, 2024: The World Health Assembly of World Health Organisation (WHO) member governments this week agreed on changes to the International Health Regulations (IHR) but did not agree on a more general agreement about the management of future pandemics. Discussions on the broader agreement by the International Negotiating Body (INB) will continue until May 2025.

The meeting was still dominated by divisions between industrialised countries influenced by the views of pharmaceutical companies, and developing countries seeking flexibility on medicine monopolies and sharing of knowledge and technology to achieve more equitable access for low-income countries to pandemic-related products. The IHR agreement was reached by acknowledging these issues without much detail, but opposition to more equitable access from industrialised countries prevented consensus on the future pandemic agreement.

Pandemic Agreement at risk of unravelling without strong commitments

27  April, 2024: The latest draft of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Pandemic Agreement was released earlier this week, but is weaker than previous drafts. The draft has been shortened to refer to principles only, without firm commitments and implementation of the principles is not guaranteed as it has been left to future meetings of WHO member countries.

Watch AFTINET and PHAA’s Webinar on Overcoming Intellectual Property Barriers to Equitable Medicines Access for Pandemics

15 April, 2024: On Tuesday 9 April at 7pm AEST, the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET) and Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) co-hosted a webinar on pandemic medicines access in the context of the World Health Organisation negotiations for a global agreement to deal with future pandemics.

Professor Deborah Gleeson (Department of Public Health, La Trobe University) and Yuan Qiong Hu (Senior Legal & Policy Advisor at Médecins Sans Frontières and intellectual property) discussed the implications of intellectual property barriers to medicines access during pandemics, with concluding remarks from Dr Patricia Ranald (AFTINET Convenor and Honorary Research Associate at the University of Sydney).

AFTINET urges Health Minister to support a strong, enforceable WHO Pandemic Agreement

20 March, 2024: AFTINET member organisations have sent a letter to the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, asking him to fulfill his commitment to a meaningful WHO Pandemic Agreement built on cooperation and equity. It urges the Health Minister to support strong, enforceable provisions for trade rules to provide more equitable access to pandemic-related products for low-income countries.

A missed opportunity for accessible medicines: WTO drops TRIPS waiver extension

February 15, 2024: After more than a year and a half of negotiations on extending the June 2022 decision on for a partial waiver on some aspects of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has formally announced that it is dropping discussions. This comes as a blow to countries such as India and South Africa which have been advocating for a TRIPS waiver extension to allow the production of more accessible COVID medicines.

New policy brief finds that the TRIPS waiver extension is a chance for the WTO to increase access to medicines and retain legitimacy

February 10, 2024: A policy brief by Rachel Thrasher from Boston University  asserts that the upcoming World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference (MC13) is a crucial window for WTO members to act to increase access to medicines by extending the Waiver to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).

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