Countries Must Save Lives Before Celebrating Success

Cancun, September 11, 2003 - A deal on TRIPS and public health reached before this week's World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Cancun is being celebrated as a victory for the WTO. Although the deal professes to make it easier for countries to access less costly generic medicines, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) believes that the complex rules of the agreement may actually hamper access to medicines.

It is now imperative for countries to put the TRIPS agreement to the test by taking full advantage of all the flexibilities contained in the agreement to increase access to medicines for their populations. Wealthy countries must also stop eroding the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health by seeking bilateral and regional trade agreements, such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement, that impose intellectual property provisions on developing countries that limit their ability to implement the Doha Declaration and safeguard public health.

The accession of Cambodia to the WTO in Cancun is an example of the continued need to defend the Doha Declaration against pressures from wealthy countries to not make use of TRIPS flexibilities. Cambodia cited the Doha Declaration in their national patent law of 2003, thereby excluding pharmaceutical products from patent protection until 2016. But during negotiations on Cambodia's accession to the WTO, apparently under pressure from the United States, Cambodia agreed to implement TRIPS-plus legislation that will hinder or delay the availability of generic medicines to its people.

"Trade rules and declarations are one thing on paper, but they will only mean something to sick people when countries begin to put them into practice," said Ellen 't Hoen of MSF's Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. "Countries must act now to use the Doha Declaration to access the best priced medicines for their populations. The experience they gain by doing so will test the limits of the WTO rules and be invaluable to revising WTO patent rules after Cancun."

Honduras is just one of the countries that could benefit immediately from taking advantage of the flexibilities already existing in the TRIPS agreement. Supported by Global Fund dollars, Honduras is currently purchasing brand-name AIDS medicines to treat 2000 of the estimated 3500 to 6000 Hondurans in need of anti-retroviral treatment. MSF is treating people in Honduras with generics for one third of the price that the Honduran government is paying.

"With the same budget buying generic drugs, it would be possible for Honduras to purchase medicines for every Honduran living with AIDS who is currently in need of treatment," said Morten Rostrup, MD, MSF International Council President. "Honduras and other countries should urgently take full advantage of the Doha Declaration to save more lives."