I welcome this special discussion
on “intellectual property and access to medicines” in the WTO
TRIPS Council. The meeting is vitally important for a number of
The crisis of disease facing developing countries is dire. Every
year malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS kill around 6 million people,
almost all of them in the developing world. As I have said before,
these premature deaths are a reproach to us all. They are also a huge
blow to countries’ hopes for development. Urgently, more needs to be
done to save the lives of millions of poor people.
Therefore, I fully support the initiative launched by UN Secretary
General Kofi Annan to raise $7–$10 billion a year to fight
against the ravages of HIV/AIDS. While this is a vast sum, it should
be pointed out that the figure represents about 12 days worth of
farm subsidies paid by OECD member governments.
The WTO’s TRIPS Agreement plays a vital role in tackling these
problems. It strikes a carefully-negotiated balance between providing
intellectual property protection — which is essential if new
medicines and treatments are to be developed — and allowing
countries the flexibility to ensure that treatments reach the world’s
poorest and most vulnerable people.
Countries must feel secure that they can use this flexibility. The
work started today in the TRIPS Council should reinforce that
But nothing is perfect.
We should be confident enough to be
ready to see if improvements are needed. Inside a new series of
negotiations, anything can be improved.
The meeting underscores the on-going commitment that the WTO and
its member governments have made to face the public health challenge,
both inside and outside the WTO.
In April the secretariats of the WTO and World Health Organization
collaborated in holding a workshop
of experts in Norway, with the help of the Norwegian government,
on two highly important topics: how to price medicines so that
patients in poor countries can afford them — in particular by
creating favourable conditions for “differential pricing” — and
how to support this with financing. The workshop has received a
considerable amount of interest, and the WTO and WHO have worked hard
to make available to the public all the papers presented there —
almost all of them are now on both of our websites.
The WTO and World Intellectual Property Organization have also just
announced a new initiative to
provide technical assistance so that least-developed countries are
better placed to use intellectual property protection for their
economic and social development — which naturally includes public
health — and to implement the TRIPS Agreement by 2006.