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Trade Laws, Patents & AIDS Medicines - 2002-11-20

Providing cheap AIDS medications to developing countries is often very dependent on international trade laws, especially those governing patents.

A year ago, at the world trade organization meeting in Doha, Qatar, agreements were reached on various aspects of the issue. The matter was taken up again last week at the WTO informal ministers meetings in Sydney, Australia. Among the groups battling trade rules on behalf of developing countries is “Doctors Without Borders.”

Ellen ‘t Hoen is coordinator of the group’s access to essential medicines campaign. From Paris, she spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the trade law fight over patent and generic medicines. She says the access to AIDS drugs issue has highlighted the problems with current patent laws. She says a one size for all patent approach does not work.

Ms. ‘t Hoen says each country has different health needs. She says pharmaceutical companies are entitled to profits, but she says current profits are “astronomical.”

The Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association says it takes 10 to 15 years and costs 800 million dollars on average to bring a new medicine to market. It says if patents are routinely violated, companies would not be able to recoup their investments and use the money for further research.

Click above links to hear De Capua interview with Ellen 't Hoen.