WTO Should Institute Case-by-Case Patent Waivers For Generic Drugs in Developing Countries, Opinion Piece Says
"With a little movement from all sides," a compromise can be reached on the issue of expanding access to generic medications, including HIV/AIDS drugs, for developing countries by this month's World Trade Organization meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, former Ambassador to Japan and Speaker of the House Thomas Foley (D-Wash.), who currently serves as the North America chair of the Trilateral Commission, writes in a Washington Times opinion piece (Foley, Washington Times, 6/12). WTO talks over generic drug access have been stalled since members missed a Dec. 31, 2002, deadline to reach an agreement. U.S. negotiators in February refused to sign a deal under the Doha declaration to allow developing nations to override patent protections to produce or import generic versions of drugs to combat public health epidemics unless wording was included to specify which diseases constitute a public health epidemic (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/3). Foley says that controversy over the issue "ignores the fact that the vast majority of essential drugs are already off patent or were never patented in developing countries" and that "profound, grinding poverty" is the greatest barrier to drug access. While the WTO "can do little directly" to improve health in these nations, it could have an "exponential impact" on people's health by "increasing opportunities for free trade and the incomes that trade generates." In addition, because developing countries can ultimately benefit from intellectual property rights, undermining this legal framework will "contribute little to the fight against HIV/AIDS and other health epidemics," Foley says. However, developing nations must be "given an opportunity to compete fairly in the world trading system" to benefit from intellectual property rights. In order to maintain the international intellectual property rights framework, the WTO should institute a waiver system whereby countries would on a case-by-case review be able to import generic drugs, Foley concludes, adding, "The sooner WTO members realize that there is a practical solution to the pharmaceuticals issue, and move on to [other] major issues ... the better" (Washington Times, 6/12).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.