Info Service on Health Issues (Jun15/02)
The TRIPS Council met in Geneva on 9-10 June 2015. The TRIPS Council discussed LDCs' request for an extension of the pharmaceutical transition period that ends on 1 January 2016.
Below is the statement presented by the WHO in support of LDCs' request.
Third World Network
STATEMENT OF THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION WTO TRIPS COUNCIL JUNE 2015
AGENDA ITEM: REQUEST OF LEAST DEVELOPED COUNTRY WTO MEMBERS WITH RESPECT TO THE EXTENSION OF THE TRANSITION PERIOD FOR PHARMACEUTICAL PRODUCTS
Universal health coverage is the central policy objective in global public health and part of the future UN Sustainable Development Goals. Universal health coverage means that all people obtain the full spectrum of essential, quality health services they need without suffering financial hardship. This requires a strong, efficient, well-run health system that meets priority health needs through people-centred integrated care. Health systems must provide for a system for financing health services, a sufficient capacity of well-trained health workers and be able to ensure access to safe, effective and affordable essential medicines and technologies.
Access to essential medicines is also recognized as part of the human right to health as an integral component of primary health care. Unfortunately, we as a community have not yet achieved this aim in all countries. There are many reasons for this gap, which include inadequate health systems, lack of political commitment, lack of good governance and insufficient investment in health in general. Where people have to buy medicines out of their pocket, it is essential that patients are provided with financial protection and essential medicines are affordable. This is particularly true for those countries that the UN classifies as the least developed countries.
Currently, LDCs that are members of the WTO are not required to apply most of the substantial rules of the TRIPS Agreement until 1 July 2021. In particular, they have no obligation to provide any protection for clinical test data or to grant patents, including on pharmaceutical products or processes. In parallel, LDCs benefit from a specific transitional period with respect to the pharmaceutical field under the 2001 Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health which if not extended, ends on 1 January 2016.
Being exempted from granting patents allows least developed countries to either locally produce or to import generic products even when those are still under patent in other countries. This can help countries in expanding health coverage by allowing the health sector to rely on more affordable generic suppliers. Being able to do competitive procurement, including from local or foreign manufacturers is in particularimportant in the area of HIV as well as for the new treatments for highly prevalent conditions like hepatitis.
The possibility not to grant patents on pharmaceuticals can also play a crucialrole for LDCs to enhance local production of generic versions of essential medicines through strategic joint ventures. This can strengthen domestic manufacturing which can contribute to achieving public health objectives byensuring security of supply as well as creating a knowledge economy.
Consequently, the LDC group stated that the request aims at facilitating access to affordable medicines in LDCs and is motivated by the massive health challenges resulting from communicable and non-communicable diseases in LDCs, their socio-economic and financial constraints, as well as the lack of adequate technological base and local manufacturing capacities in the pharmaceutical sector.
WHO welcomes and supports the LDC request for extension as part of an overall effort to facilitate access to essential medicines in these countries and urges the Council for TRIPS to favourably consider this request.