Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report Rounds Up News and Opinions on WTO Summit, Access to Medicines
A number of newspapers today ran articles and opinion pieces related to the World Trade Organization ministerial summit in Doha, Qatar. WTO ministers this week approved and issued a declaration stating that developing nations can override patent protections to produce medicines during public health emergencies. The declaration states that WTO member nations should be able to use the flexibility of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement to protect public health and "promote access to medicines for all." The declaration says that each WTO member has the right to issue compulsory licenses and the liberty to determine when to issue those licenses. However, the question of whether countries can also import generics from other nations has been referred to a council, which is expected to report its findings before the end of 2002 (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/15). The following are summaries of some of the recent news related to the summit:
- BBC News, "Hollow Victory for Drugs Campaigners?": In an interview with the BBC World Business Report, Pharmaceutical Manufacturers' Association of South Africa CEO Mirryena Deeb said that many developing nations will not benefit from the declaration's statements because they are not seen as profitable by generic drug makers. Deeb said that most generic drug firms "only want to target countries where there are patent laws, where the product has been widely marketed and they can piggyback on current demand." She added that few generic drug makers target markets without patent rules, countries that often have "the most abysmal access to quality health care and medicine in general" (BBC News, 11/15).
- BBC News, "WTO Deal Gets Mixed Reaction": About 100 "mainstream" non-governmental organizations were allowed to attend the Doha summit, and some that were barred entry, including the Third World Network, say that the ministerial meeting was "a massive defeat for poor people around the world." However, other NGOs were largely pleased by the Doha talks (BBC News, 11/15).
- New York Times, "A Catch-22 on Drugs for the World's Poor": Developing nations scored a victory this week when WTO ministers stated that they have the right to produce cheaper versions of patented drugs to protect public health; however, many nations lack the facilities to create these medicines, the Times reports. In addition, the ministerial declaration does not give a ruling on the issue of parallel importation, through which companies can import generic medicines from foreign nations such as Brazil or India (Dugger, New York Times, 11/16).
- New York Times, "Brazil Welcomes Global Move on Drug Patents": Brazil, which has been producing generic versions of AIDS drugs since 1998, "hailed" the WTO declaration as "an important victory for the developing world," the Times reports in an overview of Brazil's efforts to produce low-cost AIDS medicines (Rich, New York Times, 11/16).
- Wall Street Journal, "Public Health Groups Act Like Companies in Bid to Fight Disease in Poor Nations": Organizations such as the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development have become "catalysts" in the search for cures for diseases that primarily affect developing nations, the Journal reports. These groups contract with laboratories and companies to provide research and say they would use their control of any yielded treatments to provide access to the medicines in poorer countries. The Journal reports that if successful, these ventures "could provide a model for how to attack a number of public health crises in developing countries while avoiding the kinds of patent-rights disputes that have erupted over AIDS drugs" (Fuhrmans, Wall Street Journal, 11/16).
- Wall Street Journal, "U.S. Industry Takes Mixed Views of WTO Talks": The Journal provides an overview of different industries' reactions to the WTO meeting, stating that although the pharmaceutical industry was "disappointed" by the declaration, it maintains that the text does not alter world trade agreements regarding patent rights (Matthews et al., Wall Street Journal, 11/16).
- Washington Post, "Getting WTO's Attention": The Post highlights the actions of advocacy groups that have for years pushed for increased access to medicines. Groups such as Doctors Without Borders and the Consumer Project on Technology are responsible for the "populist impulse" behind the declaration on medicines and patents, the Post states (Blustein, Washington Post, 11/16).
Several opinion pieces and editorials on the Doha summit and its impact on access to medicines were published today in several newspapers. Some of the pieces are summarized below:
- San Jose Mercury News, "U.S. Finally Gets the Message: AIDS Drugs Must be Affordable": The United States' anthrax scares "taught the U.S. government the folly of insisting on absolute protection of 20-year drug patents," especially patents on drugs made to treat "a far-worse threat than anthrax," a San Jose Mercury News editorial states. The editorial says, "The U.S. turnabout [in Doha] was a humanitarian and practical response. It would be unconscionable to stand by while AIDS continues to ravage scores of countries around the globe" (San Jose Mercury News, 11/16).
- Wall Street Journal, "Doha Hurrah": A Wall Street Journal editorial states that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick's approval of the declaration "makes us ... nervous" because patents are "a bedrock of global trade." The editorial says that efforts to loosen patent protections in the name of public health are "usually pitched as compassion for countries ravaged by AIDS," but adds that there are already exceptions in place for nations facing health crises. The "real drivers" behind the Doha declaration were Indian generic drug firms, which are trying to "poach off U.S. research" but which are not "known for coming up with cures for AIDS or any other global scourges" (Wall Street Journal, 11/16).
- Wall Street Journal Europe, "Politics and Patents: Property Rights=Prosperity": "The proposition that intellectual property protection is at odds with growth and development (including public health) does not bode well for future progress. More to the point, it is simply wrong," Geralyn Ritter and Alain Strowel write in an opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal Europe. Ritter, a trade counsel with Covington & Burling, and Strowel, head of Covington & Burling's intellectual property division in Brussels, state that although AIDS is a "genuine crisis" for developing nations, the epidemic "does not have its roots in the TRIPS accord, and 'clarification' of that agreement is not the solution." They add, "The TRIPS agreement already provided sufficient flexibility for patent holders and public health authorities to find a solution, but the issue became politicized." Stating that intellectual property protections are important to spurring research and development, they conclude that the priority now should be on helping developing nations implement TRIPS, with a focus on those countries that "continue to neglect their commitments to enforce intellectual property rights in areas that have nothing to do with public health" (Ritter/Strowel, Wall Street Journal Europe, 11/16).