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WTO Negotiations on Medicines for the Developing World

The problem of disease in the developing world is a compelling and often startling realisation. In recent years, the spread of HIV/AIDS has gained the attention of the world's media and decision-makers, but conditions like malaria, tuberculosis and diarrhoeal diseases are also causing havoc among the poorest nations. With modern medicine having advanced to a higher level than ever before, the questions of how and why so many people are becoming ill have, quite understandably, become frequently asked. Indeed, these questions have brought a heightened international awareness of the difficulties being faced by some of the world's very poor, which has, in turn, prompted questions about what is to be done and, perhaps less helpfully, questions of who is to blame.

It has been claimed that the patent system has prevented developing nations from being able to afford medicines necessary for the treatment of HIV/AIDS. This was a claim made during the Doha negotiations of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. A resulting deal was struck which allowed poor countries experiencing national health emergencies to be exempt from patents for medicines that could help the crisis. Under this agreement, 'compulsory licensing', as it is called, was to be restricted to the poorest countries. The new deal was hailed by many as a way of ensuring that poorer countries would have access to medicines that had previously been too expensive. In other words, these countries would be legally entitled to manufacture generic versions of patented medicines that would help treat their national health emergency.

This year WTO negotiations took the agreement further. The most recent deal means that poorer countries, in times of national health crises, are entitled to import cheap copies of medicines that are still covered by a patent if they are unable to manufacture the medicines themselves. Before this extension of the agreement, a country would only be allowed to manufacture generic copies for domestic use. This meant that there was no allowance for countries that did not have the facilities to manufacture the medicines to have access to cheaper versions.


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By Dr Trevor Jones, Director General at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI)

Professor Trevor Jones is Director General of The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, directing all activities relating to the UK pharmaceutical industry, including government relations, on behalf of 80 national and international pharmaceutical companies. From 1987 to 1994, Professor Jones was a Main Board Director of Wellcome plc, the UK-based pharmaceuticals company, where he was responsible for R&D, including the development of Zovirax, AZT, Malarone, Lamictal and Tracrium. He was awarded the CBE in the 2003 New Year's Honours List.

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Professor Trevor Jones
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