Médecins Sans Frontières
12 September 2002

MSF calls on governments to act upon recommendations of the Commission for Intellectual Property Rights.

Access to medicines is a major problem in the developing world. Every day people continue to suffer and die because of lack of access to safe, effective and affordable medicines. Patents are an essential part of this, both in the way they affect drug prices and the extent to which they stimulate the research and development of new drugs. This issue has been examined in detail by the Commission for Intellectual Property Rights (CIPR), established by the UK-Government in May 2001 [].

Médecins Sans Frontières welcomes the findings of the CIPR on the issues of patents and health. The CIPR report strongly advocates the view that patents are tools of public policy and must operate to serve the greater public good. It calls for patent systems that support the public health policies of developing countries, according to the needs and level of development of each country.

The CIPR makes practical and action-orientated recommendations. The report calls for all developing countries to considering narrowing to a absolute minimum the type and scope of pharmaceutical patents, and for least-developing countries to consider delaying the granting of pharmaceutical patents for as long as possible.

MSF strongly endorses the reports' call for measures to ensure generic competition to bring drug prices down in developing countries. Quick and easy-to-use mechanisms should be designed and implemented for the granting of compulsory licences to allow generic production. This report supports what MSF and others have been advocating: that compulsory licences should not be an exception but should become the rule to ensure that the patent system does not hamper the development of a competitive pharmaceutical market.

An important issue that needs to be resolved is how to ensure that production for export to a country that has issued a compulsory license, but does not have manufacturing capacity, can take place in another country when patents are have been granted. The CIPR calls for a solution that is quick and easy to implement, gives long term security and is economically viable. These principles endorse 'an Article 30 exception' that would continue to allow countries like India or Brazil that manufacture medicines to export them to those that need them.

This issue will be discussed at the WTO TRIPS Council meeting in Geneva next week. The TRIPS Council cannot ignore the recommendations of this report. As MSF has pointed out, and as the findings of the CIPR suggest, the best solution is to adopt an Article 30 exception.

The pharmaceutical industry argues that future drug research and development depends on intellectual property protection. The CIPR makes clear the fact that the patent system is failing to stimulate innovation to meet many medical needs. Analysis by MSF shows that drug research is largely driven by profit prospects, not health needs. We are getting more and more drugs of less and less use, while many killer diseases like TB, malaria, and sleeping sickness are ignored because they only affect poor people. 68% of new drugs represent little or no therapeutic advance; and less than 1% of new drugs are developed for tropical diseases that represent over 10% of the global disease burden. We strongly endorse the reports' call for greater public sector responsibility to address a health needs based research agenda and to ensure R&D into neglected diseases.

The Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health adopted by the WTO last November was the beginning of a process to change the way intellectual property is dealt with in the world. This process must continue. Governments, both nationally and through international institutions, need to ensure that public interest and in particular health needs determine the patent policies that are crafted.

Health and pharmaceutical policies must not be curtailed by the patent system. This will require institutional changes. For example, the report calls for a change in the attitude of organisations such as the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) that have so far given advice to developing countries based almost exclusively on the supposed gains to be made from having a patent system, rather than the dangers.

This report is a further recognition of the need for greater action and support to help developing countries put health first. No government can ignore its recommendations.