Articles for May 2005

World Malaria Report  - WHO
The World Health Organisation releases its World Malaria Report - claiming that "During the past 5 years real progress has been made in scaling up malaria control and prevention efforts" Funny sort of progress when malaria cases and deaths have INCREASED.

UN malaria project damned as failure  - Sarah Boseley
Sarah Boseley of The Guardian reports on the failure that is Roll Back Malaria.

Anti-DDT lobby could slow fight against malaria , minister says  - IRIN
The Anti-DDT lobby is costing lives and we hope that the Minister's statements will stop the pseudo-science and scare mongering and help to save lives. The EU has a shameful record in stopping Uganda from using DDT. Their actions are killing Ugandan children and must stop.

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Copyright 2004 The Financial Times Limited
Financial Times (London, England)

May 31, 2004 Monday
The sick are taxed to death in poor countries: ROGER BATE:

In the debate about combating disease in poor countries, pharmaceuticals companies have been berated for being slow to cut drug prices, while the World Health Organisation and other agencies have been blamed for buying the wrong treatments. So far the extraordinary tax policies on life-saving drugs adopted by the poor countries themselves have received little attention. It is time campaigners got them in their sights.

The pharmaceuticals industry has for the past few years been donating free drugs to poor countries or charging them less for drugs that treat the biggest killers - tuberculosis, Aids and malaria. Even the patent-breaking generic drug producers have lowered prices to compete, all of which is good news for patients in poor countries.

But some countries' finance departments see a way of making big money from imports of these life-saving drugs. Of course, African governments can legitimately choose to tax what they wish, even though many leaders have not been democratically elected. However, it does seem odd that they place tariffs, levies, duties and other taxes on pharmaceuticals that can save the lives of citizens - especially when numerous studies show that the economies of these countries would grow faster if diseases such as malaria and TB were brought under control. And growth means more revenue for the Treasury.

Southern Africa does relatively well compared with the rest of the continent: most countries have no import duties on medicines, although Tanzania does charge a 10 per cent import duty, Malawi a 15 per cent import duty and South Africa a 14 per cent sales tax. Each of these countries has a bad Aids and malaria problem and could treat thousands more patients with the removal of such duties.

The most odious tariffs and duties are to be found in countries further to the north. The incredibly poor Democratic Republic of the Congo charges at least 30 per cent tax on all drugs crossing its borders, and has further taxes adding another 13 per cent to the price. Ethiopia charges an import duty of 30 per cent. Burundi and Egypt charge more than 10 per cent in port inspection charges and the former imposes other small taxes (clearance and freight duties, bank and currency charges, import margins and domestic taxes) that take its total closer to a 30 per cent overall mark-up. Rwanda charges a massive 9.5 per cent just for bank and currency charges.

These charges and taxes add significantly to the price of drugs. Even where drugs are donated free some countries, notably Egypt, levy tax on an estimated price. The result is that the lowest prices people pay are sometimes far more than double the figures usually quoted in the press.

Ever since the Clinton Foundation announced in October last year that it had "brokered" a deal to lower the price of HIV drug "cocktails" to Dollars 140 (Pounds 76) a person a year, for instance, this is the price that has been widely cited. Nowhere has this price been achieved. A study published by the Hudson Institute think-tank two weeks ago, based on the Medecins sans Frontie`res drug price guide, found the price on the ground is, at its lowest, Dollars 285. In Mozambique it is Dollars 389; in Honduras Dollars 426. The study also debunks the myth that generic Aids drugs are always cheaper than brand drugs. Brand versions were much cheaper than generics in eight of the 13 most commonly used anti-retroviral, single-dose drugs.

In the battle to increase access to essential medicines, many campaigners cite "high drug prices" as the main barriers in the developing world. This notion will probably be on full display this July at the Bangkok Aids conference. Instead, Aids activists hoping to increase access should take issue with some of the governments - Argentina (21 per cent), Bangladesh (15 per cent), the Dominican Republic (28 per cent), Greece (15 per cent) and Turkey (18 per cent) - that charge sales tax on life-saving drug imports. Brazil, considered to have the best HIV programme in a developing country, charges an 11.7 per cent import duty on medicines. Perhaps worst of all is India, with more than 3m HIV cases and only 17,000 people on treatment, which charges at least 25 per cent duty on medicines.

Commentators often say all that is needed to combat diseases such as malaria is political will. Something that all countries can do is to remove the taxes on drugs to treat the sick. It does not matter whether the drugs come from India, the US or Thailand - none should be taxed.

The writer is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a director of Africa Fighting Malaria, the health advocacy group

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