TRIPs & Access to Medicines. A Choice between Patents and Patients!
(2010; 12 pages)


Every year, 14 million people in developing countries unnecessarily die of poverty-related and infectious diseases, such as malaria, diarrhoea, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. The required medicines often exist, but the patients in developing countries simply cannot afford them, due to the patents on these medicines. There is little coherence in policies when the EUs development policy prioritises access to affordable medicines for developing countries, while at the same time, the EUs industrial and trade policy delays or complicates the access to developing countries markets of affordable medicines. Even the last Commission report on PCD ignores the risks in this field and the potentially damaging trade policies of the EU. Instead, it proposes to focus on synergies and claims that Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) are a tool for development. The fact that medicines are prohibitively expensive for many people in developing countries is partly due to patents on medicines. More than 96 percent of these patents are held by companies in Western countries. According to the pharmaceutical industry, patent protection is necessary to enable research into new drugs, that is costly and needs to be recouped. A patented drug cannot be manufactured by others than the patent holder without the latters explicit consent. Thus, in order to stimulate innovation, drug prices are substantially increased by an artificial monopoly of many years.

Innovation - and in particular that needed to serve developing countries needs, such as in tropical diseases (for which there is no financial incentive to Western pharmaceutical industry that dominates the research agenda) has been lacking however. While patents on medicines bring little benefit to developing countries, they do keep existing medicines out of reach for the poor concludes the World Health Organization. Medicine spending in developing and transitional countries constitutes up to 60% of all spending on health, which is much more than in OECD countries. In addition, these OECD countries have not only more public provision of medicine, but also price regulation of pharmaceuticals in the private sector that developing countries do not have. Instead prices of medicine in the latter are often so high that a large part of the population lacks access to them. There is a tension between the need to protect intellectual property rights and the need to ensure the availability and affordability of medicines.

And whereas there is not only large consensus that increasing IPR further does not benefit developing countries more and more alternatives to the traditional patents are being developed in the world, the EU and others still aim to increase patent protection that already faces high standards with the ratification of the Trade Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) in 1995.

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