Access to medicines: are patents the real barrier?

The Parliament Magazine, in association with Bayer, organised a lunch debate entitled 'Access to medicines: are patents the real barrier?'

By Kayleigh Rose Lewis

11 Dec 2012

According to the World Health Organization, inequities in access to medicines are due to several factors. Even though patent rights and their impact on the price of new medicines are often singled out, many countries struggle with basic access to healthcare and to essential, off-patent medicines.

The 2001 Doha declaration committed WTO members to seek ways to improve access to medicines in developing countries. In addition, the agreement on the trade related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS), signed by the WTO members, provides for the inclusion of compulsory licensing provisions to allow member countries to grant such a license under certain circumstances.

In March 2012, India issued its first compulsory license to a local generic drug producer for the manufacture and sale a generic version of a patented oncology drug. Yet by equating a lower price with improved access, and neglecting to consider broader infrastructure issues that in many cases prevent effective primary care, the decision raises the question of whether it offers a sustainable and effective way of expanding access.

The debate focused on a number of issues including:

-How can access to essential medicines be improved in developing countries?

-How can we find a balance between the protection of intellectual property rights, needed for the long term development of new medicines, and the need to make these accessible to a broad public?

-What role can and should have the relevant stakeholders (e.g. governments, civil society, pharmaceutical companies) in addressing these challenges?

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