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This four-day WTO Workshop was the eighth to be held in Geneva and was organized by the WTO Secretariat in close collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It was part of the cooperation between the three international organizations aiming at building capacity on issues arising when intellectual property rights and public health are linked. TRIPS public health flexibilities also figure prominently in other WTO national and regional technical cooperation events.

Like earlier workshops held in Geneva since 2005, the programme was specifically designed to ensure that the participants get a comprehensive overview of the key issues which affect the promotion of innovation and access to medicines.

The workshop’s content included the information necessary for their countries to make use of the Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement’s flexibilities, which allow countries to adapt intellectual property protection to meet public health and other purposes. It also provided a comprehensive overview of relevant WIPO Treaties and WHO instruments.

Underlying the workshop were the needs that are special to public health, from innovation to patients’ ability to obtain pharmaceutical products. Presentations, discussions and practical exercises looked at the TRIPS Agreement, intellectual property policies and strategies applied by governments, as well as the management of intellectual property rights as applied to concrete health-related projects.

The workshop familiarized participants with the key concepts under the TRIPS Agreement and other intellectual property instruments, and how their provisions can be implemented in national law.

It covered a range of subjects including the additional flexibility agreed by members in August 2003 and December 2005 to allow generic versions of patented medicines to be made under compulsory licence for export to countries that cannot manufacture the medicines themselves, usually referred to as the “paragraph 6 system”. Other TRIPS provisions and flexibilities directly relevant to public health and future needs were also examined.

A particular emphasis was laid on pricing and procurement policies as a key element in securing access to medicines, and experts from major procurement initiatives shared their practical experiences with participants.

Among the other issues covered were those related to licensing policies adopted by the private sector, the safety, efficacy and quality of medicines, the role of competition policy, and intellectual property rights provisions in regional or bilateral free trade agreements, and their link with public health.

The World Health Organization (WHO)’s and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)’s contributions to the workshop demonstrated how the three organizations use their different expertise to work together and to complement each other.

To complete the picture, a number of other speakers shared their experiences and views on certain key issues directly relevant to public health. They included representatives of developed and developing country WTO members, the research and development (R&D) industry, Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), the Global Fund and the Medicines for Malaria Venture. The programme thus offered a rounded view of the issues at the crossroad between intellectual property rights and public health.

The participants in this came from: Bangladesh, Belarus, Botswana, Burundi, Colombia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Ghana, Grenanda, Honduras, Lebanon, Maldives, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Paraguay, Samoa, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand and Uruguay.

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