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Foreman, Martin
Patents, Pills and Public Health: Can TRIPS Deliver?
The Panos Institute, 2002

"Panos Reports are financially supported by the UK’s Department for International Development, the Norwegian Agency for Development Assistance and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. Funding for this publication was provided by the Rockefeller Foundation." Reproduced with kind permission of The Panos Institute.


"This report aims to provide the media, policy-makers, nongovernmental organisations and other concerned groups with an introduction to the issues surrounding the international agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and public health. In the South, cost is one of the key factors inhibiting access to new drugs, in particular for HIV/AIDS and associated diseases. In many countries, the patent intellectual property right granted to the manufacturers of a new drug means a monopoly. This prevents other companies from marketing an alternative, cheaper ‘generic’ version. In other countries, where patent recognition is more restricted, such generic versions may be produced or marketed, and the cost of drugs is substantially reduced. For example, thanks to generics, the annual cost of treating HIV/AIDS has fallen from $10,000 to $200 in some parts of the South. To comply with TRIPS, however, patent legislation is being introduced in many countries where previously it did not exist. While the pharmaceutical industry argues that such a policy is necessary to promote innovation, others believe that the impact will be to reduce competition, push up prices and limit still further access to drugs in the world’s poorest countries. There are alternative means of increasing access to medicines. These include compulsory licensing, where a patent is overridden in return for payment of a royalty, and differential pricing, where poorer countries pay considerably less for a product than wealthier ones. However, such measures continue to be subject to dispute. While TRIPS remains the focus of intense international debate, within many countries there has been relatively little discussion of the potential impact of the agreement. Increasingly, however, legislators, health providers, the media and others are becoming aware that a debate on TRIPS is an essential part of the process of ensuring equitable access to health for all the world’s citizens. For this to happen, Southern governments need to prioritise the development of healthcare systems capable of delivering essential drugs to all including the poorest sectors of society. The challenge for the international community and the pharmaceutical industry is to support them in doing so."

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