The Nobel Peace Prize-winning relief group Doctors Without Borders warned Tuesday that WTO rules on intellectual property rights make life-saving drugs too expensive for poorer nations.As one example, a recent WTO agreement on protection of patents has left some 26 million people in Africa without hope of gaining access to AIDS medications that were available before the treaty:
in all these countries one company has the monopoly to sell and make the drug available. Before WTO rules, it was possible in WTO countries for local manufacturers to produce their own versions of newer medicines and that always led to a downward effect on prices. The newer medicines - and I'm talking about medicines that have been developed since 1995 - are almost all priced out reach of people in developing countries.The newer rules do allow countries to domestically produce and sell patented medicines in the interest of public health, but only Kenya and South Africa have the industrial know-how to attempt this -- the rest of the continent is essentailly excluded from medical treatment because of patent monopolies.
AIDS is perhaps the most striking example, because of its nearly pandemic nature in Africa and its deadliness. But similar arguments can be made about a multitude of other medicines that are considered vital to public health in the developed world, yet are withheld by force from those who need them most: the poorest and needy.
This Christmas season, perhaps we can try to help these people. You can certainly post your feelings about these things in the forums at the WTO website, but it might be more effective to try to get your locally elected officials to push for reform. Write to your senators and representatives.
Followup: Why Drug Companies Don't Need Patents