Geneva, 18 September 2001 — MSF calls upon World Trade Organization (WTO) members to support developing countries’ proposal to ensure that the multilateral rules on intellectual property do not harm public health.
One third of the world’s population lacks access to essential drugs; in the poorest parts of Africa and Asia, this figure rises to one half. Developing countries, where three quarters of the world’s population lives, account for less than 10% of the global pharmaceutical market.
The implementation of the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), scheduled to be completed by all WTO Member States by 2006, may be expected to have further serious consequences on the availability at affordable prices of new essential medicines. Developing country delegates have also drawn attention to the fact that, although they shoulder the heavier costs of high levels of intellectual property protection, they do not benefit from the pharmaceutical research and development that the new international patent rules aim to encourage.
MSF welcomes the discussions at the TRIPS Council on access to medicines. “Most members of the WTO seem genuinely prepared to correct the present imbalance between the sanctity of patents and the health of people.” said Ellen ‘t Hoen of MSF. “Access to essential medicines should not be a luxury reserved for the wealthy but should be reinforced as a critical component of the human right to health”. Some argue that patents are not the problem, but the experience of our doctors in the field demonstrates otherwise.
WTO members have pointed out the existing flexibilities of the TRIPS agreement. This week’s discussions in the TRIPS Council and the upcoming WTO Ministerial Conference in Doha, Qatar, will clarify whether these flexibilities stretch far enough. MSF supports developing countries’ proposal for a Ministerial Declaration at Doha which would ensure that nothing in the TRIPS Agreement shall prevent Members from taking measures to protect public health.
MSF is not against patents and patent legislation. True innovation deserves to be protected. MSF advocates a balanced intellectual property system that takes into account the specific needs and priorities of developing countries and follows the principles outlined in the TRIPS: patents should benefit the innovator and those who need access to the innovation. Patents are not an end in themselves but public policy tools to achieve benefits for society as a whole.
In Doha, it will become clear whether there is a political will to strike this balance with the present rules in place.
MSF is an independent humanitarian medical relief organisation founded in 1971. MSF works on 400 projects in 85 countries. In 1999, MSF launched the Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines in response to the ever-growing gap in access to medicines between the developing and developed world.