2001: The Doha Declaration gives primacy to public health

Photograph by WTO
Photograph by WTO at the DOHA Ministerial Conference, from 9th-13th November 2011.

The answer was provided by the WTO Ministerial Conference meeting at Doha in Qatar in November 2001. All WTO Countries unanimously agreed a joint declaration that affirmed their sovereign right to take measures to protect public health.

They declared:

“The TRIPS Agreement does not and should not prevent members from taking measures to protect public health…the Agreement can and should be interpreted and implemented in a manner supportive of WTO members’ right to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all.”

The Doha Declaration also reaffirmed countries’ right to use TRIPS safeguards to overcome patent barriers in order to promote access to medicines, and guided countries in their use. The Declaration clarified that the grounds for issuing a compulsory licence are unlimited, and are neither restricted to specific diseases such as HIV/AIDS, nor to public health emergencies.

One final significant achievement of Doha was to extend the deadline by which least developed countries had to grant and enforce pharmaceutical patents, from 2006 to 2016.  It’s thanks to an extension of this deadline that in a number of African and Asian countries, MSF can import Indian generics to treat HIV/AIDS patients, even when the drugs are patented in that country.

>> Read the Doha Declaration