Equitable and appropriate health care is universally considered as a basic human right, and pharmaceuticals are an integral part of the modern health care system. Essential medicines save human lives and reduce suffering. Access to essential drugs is, therefore, a critical part of this fundamental human right. Essential drugs are not ordinary commodities. Every effort should be aimed at improving access to essential medicines for those who need them. With the current globalization of trade, access to drugs becomes a critical issue, which needs particular attention.
Member States of the World Trade Organization (WTO) have to abide by several multilateral agreements, of which Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement probably has the greatest effect on access to medicines. TRIPS Agreement deals with patent law and sets some minimum standards, such as 20-year patent protection for pharmaceuticals. In certain instances, such as a public health emergency, TRIPS also allows for the production of medicines by companies other than the patent holder (compulsory licensing). TRIPS Agreement allows for the importation of medicines from countries where the product was legitimately put on the market (parallel imports).
Policy makers, healthcare managers and other relevant stakeholders in the delivery of healthcare services and goods need knowledge about WTO and the TRIPS Agreement and its possible implications on health and access to medicines. Necessary measures need to be undertaken at the country level to minimize the negative impacts and to best utilize this Agreement. One of the important measures is to monitor the impact of this Agreement on health and access to essential medicines.
The aim of this booklet is to inform people in the health sector about WTO, the TRIPS Agreement and the Agreement’s possible impacts on access to medicines. Most of the information in this booklet is abstracted from the WHO/EDM publication (WHO/DAP/98.9). For more detailed information, readers are recommended to refer to the document:
Velasquez, G. Boulet, P. Globalization and access to drugs, perspectives on the WTO/TRIPS Agreement, WHO/DAP/98.9 Revised, 1999.