U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan Urges Trade Ministers to Find Long-Term Solution to Increase Access to HIV/AIDS Drugs
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday urged trade ministers meeting in Sydney, Australia, to "propose, without delay, a long-term solution" to increase developing countries' access to affordable medicines and vaccines for "deadly diseases" such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria (U.N. Secretary General statement, 11/13). Reaching a drug-patent compromise is a top priority for trade ministers, who are in Sydney for a "mini-ministerial" meeting in advance of World Trade Organization talks next month, as failure to reach a deal this year will slow the current round of trade talks, which is scheduled to end by 2003 (King/Day, Wall Street Journal, 11/14). In November 2001, a WTO ministerial working group approved and issued a declaration stating that developing nations can override patent protections to manufacture medicines during public health emergencies. The declaration says that the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement, which outlines international patent rules, "can and should be interpreted and implemented in a manner supportive of WTO members' right to protect public health and, in particular, to promote access to medicines for all." The text also states that each WTO member has the right to issue compulsory licenses and the liberty to determine when to issue the licenses (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 10/25). However, the ministers left the details of the agreement "to be hammered out by the end of this year." The United States and the European Union, the world's two major drug producers, have proposed allowing only the poorest developing countries to produce patented drugs needed to fight epidemics such as HIV/AIDS and malaria. Many developing countries advocate access to a "wider range" of patented drugs, while a "large coalition" of nongovernmental organizations wants developing countries to be able to receive patented medicines from any country they choose. The Journal reports that U.S. pharmaceutical companies are pushing for a "limited" agreement because of fears that a "wave of patent infringements" would flood the European and North American markets with drugs from developing countries (Wall Street Journal, 11/14).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.