Intended for healthcare professionals


New deal from the World Trade Organisation

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 11 September 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:571
  1. Allyson M Pollock, professor (,
  2. David Price, senior research fellow
  1. Public Health Policy Unit, School of Public Policy, University College London, London WC1H 9QU

    May not provide essential medicines for poor countries

    On 30 August 2003 the World Trade Organisation (WTO) announced that it had resolved the issue of giving poor countries “access to essential medicines” without breaching its own law on intellectual property. The WTO's 1994 agreement on trade related aspects of intellectual property, TRIPS, makes 20 year patent protection mandatory, allowing drug companies to charge monopoly prices for essential medicines. TRIPS has built-in measures that allow countries to over-ride patent protection for public health purposes but since 2001, WTO members have been trying to reach agreement about what this flexibility means in practice. Argument has centred on the question of “compulsory licensing,” which allows countries to over-ride patents and manufacture cheaper generic versions, and the extent to which producers of generic drugs can export to poor countries that have insufficient manufacturing capacity, without the risk of trade courts imposing trade sanctions.

    A WTO declaration in 2001 stated the organisation's intention of finding an interpretation that squared the interest of pharmaceutical industries and developing countries.1 Last week's announcement sets out the terms on …

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