UK charity Oxfam issued a damning report on the five-year-old Doha Declaration today, claiming that rich countries are betraying their obligations to help poorer nations improve public health.

Doha, which states that developing countries must be able to use public health safeguards written into the World Trade Organisation’s intellectual property rules (TRIPS) in order to access cheaper generic versions of patented medicines, is largely being ignored and political inactivity means that people are suffering or dying needlessly.

But Oxfam’s findings were immediately condemned by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, which said in a statement that the report ‘advances the false premise that TRIPS-related rules regarding intellectual property rights remain a major barrier to access to medicines in developing countries.”

95% of the medicines deemed critical by the World Health Organisation are still under patent, contends the IFPMA, and access to medicines is not the major issue affecting the developing world. Rather, it is a lack of healthcare infrastructure that prevents medicines getting to patients, it maintains.

Oxfam’s report takes the view that richer countries are bullying poorer ones into accepting patent rules that reinforce monopolies held by the pharmaceutical industry.

”Global health statistics are grim but the US continues to negotiate trade deals with even stricter rules that limit how a country can use public health safeguards,” said Celine Charveriat, head of Oxfam’s Make Trade Fair campaign.

Oxfam also contends that ‘pharmaceutical companies have gone even further by directly challenging countries such as India and in Philippines that have sought to use the safeguards’.

“Developing countries have a responsibility to use the public health safeguards but when they try to do so they are put under huge pressure,” Charveriat said.