Press release |

Access to affordable generic medicines for world’s poorest countries under threat

Photograph by Manu Brabo
A patient with TB shows the pills for his treatment in a prison in Donetsk, Ukraine, where MSF is helping to treat patients infected with TB. MSF has been running a TB treatment program within the penitentiary system in Donetsk since 2011.

Geneva, 12 October 2015 — Starting Thursday, 15 October, the Member States of the World Trade Organization will be considering a request by the world's poorest countries to be  exempted from implementing medicine patents for as long as they are classified as least-developed countries (LDCs). If this request is not granted, access to affordable medicines for millions of people in these countries could be negatively impacted.

While the European Union has come out supporting the LDCs’ request, other wealthy countries, including the United States, Australia, and Canada, are looking to weaken any exemption and are placing pressure on LDCs to accept a deal where they'd be worse off. Information has emerged that US Ambassador to the World Trade Organization, Michael Punke, met with representatives of 15 LDCs last Friday in Geneva, where he noted that the US could not agree to an indefinite exemption due to pressure from some US stakeholders who are upset with the US government’s intellectual property concessions on the recently-completed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

"We work in over half of the world's countries that are classified as least-developed, and our medical teams know all too well the impact of medicines and vaccines being priced out of reach", said Rohit Malpani, Director of Policy and Analysis at Médecins Sans Frontières Access Campaign. "If the world’s poorest countries are forced to introduce patents on medicines prematurely, prices on life-saving drugs will rise and millions of people will be treading the fine line between staying alive and dying."

Least-developed countries are currently exempted from having to implement patents on medicines and vaccines, allowing them to freely import affordable generics as well as produce medicines locally. However, the current exemption on medicines for LDCs expires next year.

Bangladesh, on behalf of all LDCs, has asked for an exemption to be granted for as long as LDCs are classified as such, but some of the world's wealthiest countries do not support this. 

"We need the US, Australia, and Canada, to do the right thing and grant the world's poorest countries an exemption from needing to grant medicine patents for as long as a country is classified as least-developed. We're encouraged to see the EU supporting the LDCs' request and urge the US and other less supportive countries to follow suit."

Read more: Exempt from access to affordable medicines? How the US is trying to deny the world’s poorest countries full legal protection from having to grant patents on medicines.