The 18 to 23 July International AIDS Conference held in Vienna this year, subtitled ‘Rights Here, Right Now’ was a platform to raise, yet again, the values-based universal and indivisible human rights and the political commitments that inform our response, globally, to the unacceptable level of new HIV infection and mortality from AIDS. At the same time the shrinking provision of aid to low income countries and persistence of avoidable inequities globally in the progressive realisation of these rights starkly raises the reality of the competition between social rights to health, and private rights to intellectual property.
The rising prices of medicines and the tragedy of millions of AIDS victims in poor countries, who cannot pay for the medicines they need to stabilize the disease, have aroused widespread concern and put on the agenda a debate on the generally high cost of these drugs and medicines.
The other important issue under discussion is that of equal opportunities for both developed and developing countries to obtain the medicines that their populations need in order to fight a range of diseases, among which the AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa constitutes a real tragedy.
Trade regulations have much to do with this. World Trade Organization's patent rules -whether raising prices or restricting exports of generic drugs- directly affect the price that developing countires pay for the medicines. Meanwhile, transnational farmaceutical industries claim that "weakening international patent rules would not help AIDS victims". They blame inadequate infrastructure, cultural barriers and political corruption, terms so general that it is difficult to identify specific culprits.
In November 2001 the fourth WTO Ministerial meeting at Doha, Qatar, declared that WTO patent rules should not prevent WTO member countries from taking measures to protect public health or promote access to medicines for all. However, WTO members couldn’t agree on some “sensitive issues”. In August 2003, some days before the fifth Ministerial Meeting at Cancun, a “solution” was reached. According to civil society it could mean a backlash to Doha.
Civil society is not only worried about the WTO when caimpaigning against patents. Some organizations have dennounced that negotiations are currently underway for a new international treaty on patents. This instrument would create a new patent regime, monitored by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a UN agency based in Geneva.
Developing countries are struggling for their interests to be included in these negotiations, encouraged by the "failure" of the WTO Ministerial Conference that took place in Cancun in 2003. Together with civil society organizations, third world countries have shown that it is possible to confront transnational companies: patents have not won the battle yet.
The Resource Book is conceived as a practical guide to the TRIPS Agreement. It aims to facilitate an informed participation in the ongoing negotiations on intellectual property issues and to assist national authorities in the design and implementation of intellectual property policies adapted to their respective development needs.
The Doha Declaration was rejected as "the result of an unacceptable process of manipulation". It stated, however, that "the TRIPS Agreement does not and should not prevent Members from taking measures to protect public health".
The Fifth Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), that took place from 10 to 14 September 2003, in Cancun, Mexico, ended without agreement on the Ministerial Text. A few days before WTO members reached “a solution” on patents and public health.
Few would dispute that adequate access to essential medicines is necessary for achieving the ultimate goal of universal healthcare for all human beings. That this goal is unlikely to be achieved anytime soon is evident from one simple fact: the WHO estimates that approximately one third of the world’s population lacks access to essential medicines, with the proportion being much higher in some of the poorest countries in Africa and Asia. April 2007 (pdf version).
The TRIPS agreement apparently provides for flexibility to member countries to implement policies and programmes to promote public health. However, the contradictions in the agreement make it difficult for developing countries and LDCs to use it to promote any long-term public health policy. The provisions are either too ambiguous or too vulnerable to restrictive interpretations that serve the interests of developed countries and the pharmaceutical industry. This article analyses the issue taking into account the agreement reached in August 2003. May 2004.
This was the agreement reached by WTO members on 30 August. According to the official press release, this decision “will make it easier for poorer countries to import cheaper generics made under compulsory licensing if they are unable to manufacture the medicines themselves”.
This paper examines the WTO decision on TRIPS and health. A short background on the decision is given followed by an analysis of its implications and discussion of related concerns. An illustrative example of how the agreement may work in practice is also given. Pdf format.
A new report by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) shows dramatic price reductions for second-line antiretroviral treatment over the last year, largely stimulated by a compulsory license issued by Thailand. But the report also identifies a worrying trend: using the newer, less toxic first line combination, now recommended by the World Health Organization, raises the cost for patients by nearly 500 percent, from US$99 to up to US$487. (PDF). August 2007.
Faced with the high prices of patented AIDS medicines, many countries in the developing world have issued compulsory licences to make or import the more affordable, equally effective, generic versions. Unfortunately, US free trade agreements (FTAs) will make medicines for all diseases more expensive again, in the name of doubtful short-term trade gains. December 2006.
More than 45 organizations from over 40 countries attending the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto signed onto a petition calling for a moratorium on free trade provisions that threaten access to medicines and sustainability of treatment programs. The signatories include NGOs, PLWHA, doctors, academics, lawyers, activists, scientists, faith-based organizations, transgendered groups, health care practitioners and individuals. August 2006.
The week of negotiations (28 April - 3 May 2008) of the Intergovernmental Working Group on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property, have been replete with instances of chicanery and doublespeak on the part of most developed countries, led by the United States. May 2008.
This is the draft joint NGO statement to be presented at the World Health Assembly's inter-governmental meeting that will discuss a reform of the whole global influenza network system. NGOs are proposing a system that will give public health benefits such as vaccines and technology transfer so that poorer countries can also produce their own vaccines and stockpile of pandemic influenza vaccines. November 2007.
When it comes to HIV-AIDS, Big Pharma is less concerned about saving lives and much more concerned about protecting its patents and advancing its interpretation of the Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) agreement as restricting compulsory licensing, preventing export of drugs produced under compulsory licensing, and banning parallel imports. They argue that this regime is necessary in order to promote research and development of new drugs. Walden Bello, in his intervetion at the XV International AIDS Conference, stated that corporate R&D is simply an obsolete framework when it comes to the research and development of essential, life-saving drugs.
There is public concern worldwide that patented drugs are priced too high, making them out of reach of patients with serious ailments. However, governments can take (and are taking) measures like compulsory licensing to get cheaper generic versions of the drugs. Formulating the right national laws and policies to do so is now an urgent task, since millions of lives are at stake. May 2004.
This campaign aims at pushing to lower the prices of existing medicines, bringing abandoned drugs back into production, stimulating research and development for diseases that primarily affect the poor, and overcoming other barriers to access.
This comprehensive report analyses the international agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and its effects in developing countries public health. It is stated here that this one of the key factors inhibiting access to new HIV/AIDS drugs.
In this report Phrma (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America) states that access to medicines has to do with developing countries own problems. Phrma is an American powerful group that represents major transnationals.
"GlaxoSmithKline does not believe that patents restrict access to medicines, but that instead they stimulate sustained investment in research and development (R&D), leading to medical advances. Intellectual property legislation is essential for maintaining R&D into medicines for the developing world", the company says. (pdf format)
Access to medicines, which is part of the human right to health services, has emerged as a major public health issue, especially with the impact of patents on the prices of drugs. The patenting of medicines has become more prevalent after the establishment of the Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement in the World Trade Organisation in 1995. That agreement made it compulsory for WTO members to include medicines in their regime for product and process patents. February 2007 (doc version).
The divergence view between the United States and some developing countries on the mandate of the World Health Organisation (WHO) to deal with issues relating to intellectual property rights and public health shows that there are deep divisions at how countries view not only the work of the group, but of the WHO as an organisation. January 2007.
Five years ago, members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) signed a ministerial agreement to ensure that intellectual property rules would no longer obstruct developing countries’ efforts to protect public health. Since then, however, little has changed. Patented medicines continue to be priced out of reach for the world’s poorest people. Trade rules remain a major barrier to accessing affordable versions of patented medicines (generic medicines). The prevalance of debilitating and life-threatening diseases in poor countries is growing, but medicines are simply not available. November 2006.
In 2001, the World Trade Organization (WTO) approved the Doha Declaration on Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and Public Health which affirms the right of
countries to prioritize access to medicines and public health over intellectual property rights. However, this statement did not address the issue of how countries with insufficient manufacturing capacity can make use of these rights. Now developed countries want the WTO to extend a complex interim "solution" to the problem that has failed so far. Sign-on statement by NGOs calling on the World Trade Organization to reject the "bad deal" of extending the unworkable interim solution adopted two years ago at the Doha Declaration. December 2005.
Rather than accept a narrowly framed 'solution' to the paragraph 6 problem, developing countries can avail themselves of existing legitimate strategies to supply generic pharmaceuticals to other countries in need, contends an international non-governmental advocacy group.
This report shows how, after the Doha Agreement, the US bilateral policy on patents and medicines is still heavily influenced by the narrow commercial interests of the giant pharmaceutical companies seeking to stave off generic competition for lucrative patented drugs. Many of the countries targeted are key ARV generic producers, such as India, Brazil and Thailand.
Patent protection under the TRIPS Agreement is blocking poor countries' access to medicines. Under what conditions should it be permissible for cheaper generic versions of patented drugs to be exported to poor countries that cannot manufacture them? The TRIPS Council of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was supposed to come up with an answer to that question by the end of 2002, but failed to do so.
If companies continue a slow evolution of the existing approach without addressing society's expectations, they are likely to fall seriously short of meeting the challenges of access to medicines says Oxfam in a new report. December 2007.
The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) of the WTO mandated the introduction of protection of intellectual property rights, notably patents, for pharmaceutical products. While the implications of TRIPS for access to medicines raised significant concerns, a recent new wave of free trade agreements (FTAs), negotiated outside the WTO, requires even higher levels of intellectual property protection for medicines than those mandated by TRIPS. (PDF document). July 2006.
An independent Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health presented its report to the World Health Organization. The report recommends key actions needed to ensure that poor people in developing countries have access to existing and new products to diagnose, treat and prevent the diseases which affect them most. April 2006.
This paper outlines some of the issues relating to intellectual property, conditions affecting competition, the public interest and the requirements of the development objective and process.
(Word format). June 2005.
When TRIPS was signed in 1994, the United States, Europe and Japan dominated the world's software, pharmaceutical, chemical and entertainment industries. The rest of the world had little to gain by agreeing to these terms of trade for intellectual property. They did so because a failure of democratic processes nationally and internationally enabled a small group of men within the United States to capture the US trade-agenda-setting process, to draft intellectual property principles that became the blueprint for TRIPS and to crush resistance through US trade power. September 2004.
The move by the US to ‘globalise’ its dysfunctional intellectual property (IP) system may well serve the highly protectionist agenda of its corporations, but is inimical to the cause of knowledge creation and dissemination, human welfare and Third World development. In resisting these inroads into their right to frame IP laws appropriate to their own development needs, developing countries should forge international alliances with all those who seek to redirect the current IP system for the public good of their own societies and for common global concerns. February 2005.
According to this article by GRAIN a global patent system can be implemented through the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization. This Substantive Patent Law Treaty (SPLT) would remove most of the remaining national flexibility in patent systems and pave the way for a future world patent granted directly by WIPO.
According to this article, "NGOs who campaign to restrict patent rights and accuse pharmaceutical companies of putting 'profits before people' give moral legitimacy to the more dubious interests of the generics manufacturers".
The briefing calls for an independent human rights impact assessment of the effect of intellectual property rules in the US – Morocco Free Trade Agreement (FTA) on access to medicines and the enjoyment of human rights in Morocco. The FTA came into force on 1 January 2006. April 2006 (pdf version).
Participants stressed that access to medicines and health services are vital for the Asian region, especially since this region has the largest share of the world’s people. They also noted that the globalization process has had an impact on health care. The workshop was organized in several plenary sessions, working groups to consider country reports, and panel discussions, on a wide range of topics. The following are some of the significant conclusions. November 2004.
Australia's ratification of a free trade agreement with the United States has sparked warnings that it represents a major win for the U.S. drug industry in blocking generic manufacturers and undermining the country's internationally acclaimed system for lowering pharmaceutical prices.
Following his recent Mission to Peru, the Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Paul Hunt, urged the United States and Peru to take this right into account during their current trade negotiations. According to him, it “will water-down internationally agreed health safeguards, leading to higher prices for essential drugs that millions of Peruvians will find unaffordable”. July 2004.
Free trade agreements promoted by the US risk imposing an Intellectual Property system on Ecuador that would raise the price of medicines for everyone and prevent the use of policy flexibilities necessary to protect the right of everyone to the highest attainable standard of health. April 2004, doc format.