WTO and drugs

What has Doha done to help poor nations meet their drug needs?

Published: Friday 30 November 2001

The 4th wto ministerial conference in Doha has granted that governments are free to take all necessary measures to protect public health. Simply put, governments can override patents without the threat of a backlash of large pharma multinationals. It is now upto governments to use these powers to bring down the cost of medicines and increase access to lifesaving treatments. The measures granted under this agreement include the right to grant compulsory licenses (overriding patents) and the freedom to determine the grounds upon which such licenses are granted. But these options are not limited to emergency situations.

Countries are free to decide on their own rules for parallel imports, that is, to shop around for the best price of a branded drug on the global market. In addition, least developed countries (ldcs) were given a 10-year extension till 2016 to comply with trips. The biggest disappointment is that the meeting failed to resolve the issue of where countries with insufficient or no manufacturing capacity for pharmaceuticals will obtain drugs under a compulsory license.

Doha can prove to be a major advance in rebalancing the trips Agreement. The next step would be to ensure that next year's scheduled review of trips takes a hard look at what kind of patenting is really suitable for developing countries.

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