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Fairer trade agreements to facilitate access to healthcare for all

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Prices for life-saving drugs are escalating. Investments in medical innovation are rapidly falling. And trade agreements are making access to healthcare more difficult for millions worldwide, particularly those in developing countries. These call for shaping better, sustainable trade deals that balance public health interests and private sector incentives.

Professor Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Vice-Chair of the UN Committee for Development Policy, emphasised on these issues when discussing the emerging global public health crisis at the CPD Anniversary Lecture on 13 February 2017. Her talk highlighted how the increasing number of bilateral agreements focusing more on investments, favouring powerful countries and with strong support from the private sector are driving this situation.

Professor Fukuda-Parr noted that trade agreement processes are not transparent. Provisions within them discourage research in neglected tropical diseases and push for enforcing patent rights that can make prices skyrocket.

The speaker expressed concerns over Bangladesh’s access to lifesaving drugs such as those for the deadly TB—a huge worry for the country—and how trade agreements can be detrimental to its promising pharma sector.  She emphasised on the need to plan for changes to the policy environment for the sector as Bangladesh is on its way to graduating from LDC status and it will have to comply with all provisions set within the current bilateral trade agreements.

Professor Fukuda-Parr ended her presentation by urging for more rigorous research on the implications of trade agreements on public health, calling for more regulatory bodies and for alternatives to the current market-based models for distributing medicines.

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Participants at the session voiced various concerns regarding the issue. Many highlighted the need for greater government support for strategic interventions within the pharmaceutical industry, increasing R&D capacity and monitoring the impact of agreements on public health.

Professor Mustafizur Rahman, Executive Director, CPD, presented the opening remark. Professor Rehman Sobhan chaired the discussion while Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya moderated the event.  Distinguished representatives from the pharmaceutical and health sectors, NGOs, civil society, academia and research community attended the talk.

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