VATICAN CITY, MAY 10, 2004 ( A nongovernmental organization launched an appeal from the Vatican calling for cooperation between rich nations and developing countries to make good-quality pharmaceuticals available at low prices, especially to poor people.

The NGO, Convivium, was founded last December by the International Federation of Catholic Pharmacists, in collaboration with Vatican officials and representatives of some 80 pharmaceutical companies.

Alain Lejeune, president of Convivium, told ZENIT that "the objective is to facilitate access to quality medicines to everyone everywhere, without any distinction, especially essential medicines such as vaccines, or drugs intended to combat epidemics, AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis."

The idea of Convivium is to use the network of the Catholic Church, which has 128,000 health institutions worldwide, to ensure medicines for millions of people who would otherwise not be able to afford them or gain access to them.

The organization, which held a two-day congress here May 7-8, presented its project Friday during a press conference at the headquarters of Vatican Radio.

To encourage lower-priced medicines that don't compromise on quality, Convivium hopes to create a "virtuous circle," formed by pharmaceutical houses willing to produce low-cost medicines and work around problems involving patents.

"[The] right of intellectual property, although just, in some cases can fuel conflicts with numerous patients who do not have access to treatments," the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, Bishop José Luis Redrado Marchite, told ZENIT.

Bishop Redrado said that "80% of the medicines are consumed by 15% of the population," and that in "the rich world there is also the problem of excessive consumption of medicines."

He also cited the problem of experimentation with risky new drugs tested on populations of poor countries.

The bishop called for the "sharing of benefits of the new drugs with countries where the tests are carried out, in ways that must be agreed but that take into account the needs of these countries in the area of health."

Bishop Redrado renewed an appeal so that people affected by the HIV virus are given full access to antiretroviral drugs.

He said that Africa, with 25 million AIDS patients and 2.2 million AIDS deaths a year, has the poorest population with the least possibility of access to treatments.

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