Opinion Pieces Call for Agreement in WTO Negotiations About Access to Patented Medicines, Including Antiretroviral Drugs
The World Trade Organization is currently debating a third draft of an agreement on how to grant developing countries wider access to low-cost medicines, including antiretroviral drugs, the Associated Press reports (Koppel, Associated Press, 12/16). Summaries of two recent opinion pieces on the WTO talks follow:
- Finding a way to "supply life-saving medicines" and extend "special and differential treatment" to developing countries that suffer from health care crises, such as AIDS and tuberculosis, is an issue of "great importance," according to an opinion piece in the Financial Times by WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi. The "main focus" of the talks should be on "the tens of millions of people in the developing world who suffer from HIV/AIDS," Panitchpakdi writes, but he adds that "if we fail to protect the patents" of drug companies, "our hopes of finding life-saving medication ... will be dashed." Although "confident" that an agreement will be reached, Panitchpakdi writes that one point of contention is how to increase drug access to nations that "lack production capacity and so cannot require patent-holding foreign drug makers to license their inventions to domestic producers." He concludes that a failure to reach an agreement would "sour an already tense atmosphere among WTO members" and "leave an immense number of issues unresolved" (Panitchpakdi, Financial Times, 12/15).
- UNAIDS' estimate of 42 million HIV-positive people worldwide is a "reminder of the public health danger" and should propel WTO members to meet a Dec. 31 deadline to create a plan to provide "cheap medicines for poorer countries," according to an editorial in the Bangkok Post. Panitchpakdi's "appeal to the consciences" of nations involved in the Doha talks "has yet to sink in," the editorial says. Although "patent holders are entitled to be protective" because the "world needs them" to continue to find cures to combat deadly diseases, pharmaceutical companies should donate a small amount of their "fat profits" to "relieve public health emergencies," as part of a "moral obligation to a society that feeds them well," the Post concludes (Bangkok Post, 12/14).