Geneva, February 12, 2003 -- In ongoing negotiations in Tokyo this week, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is discussing a deal that could severely limit developing countries' access to affordable medicines. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) strongly urges WTO members to reject the latest proposal by the chair of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council to restrict use of compulsory licensing for many developing countries to "national emergencies or other circumstances of extreme urgency." Wealthy countries do not have to declare national emergencies to make use of TRIPS safeguards. Why should developing countries have to do so?
"In Africa, pneumonia is the second biggest killer after HIV/AIDS," says Dr Bernard Pécoul, director of the Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. "Will countries declare pneumonia a national emergency? It is hard to imagine. If they do, will they also declare emergencies for diarrheal diseases?"
The adoption of the TRIPS Council chairman's proposal would mean that countries without the possibility to produce medicines are at a major disadvantage over countries that do have the capacity. In theory, they could issue a compulsory license to address any public health problem; but in practice, they will only be able to get supplies of the medicines if they declare a national emergency. These countries would have to wait for a public health problem to spin out of control before they can use this solution to address it.
Already during the TRIPS Agreement and the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health, developing countries resisted strong pressure to have compulsory licensing provisions limited to emergency situations. Giving in to this emergency language now would be a massive blow to the progress painstakingly achieved over many years.
MSF strongly urges all WTO members to reject the Chairman's reference to emergencies and any other attempt to limit the terms of the agreement.
"Throughout negotiations last year, the US tried to limit the agreement to a set list of diseases" explains Ellen 't Hoen of MSF's Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. "This was unacceptable, and developing countries rightly rejected the notion. But this current bid by the TRIPS Council chairman to restrict the agreement to national emergencies would in fact be far worse. We cannot let a handful of WTO members yield to industry pressure and cripple developing countries' access to life-saving medicines."