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UNAIDS, UNDP, WHO Release Policy Brief Advising Countries on Using TRIPS Flexibilities to Drive Down HIV Treatment Costs

March 16, 2011

Amid growing concerns over the long-term sustainability of access to affordable HIV/AIDS drugs, UNAIDS, WHO and the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) on Tuesday released a policy brief (.pdf) advising countries on how they can successfully use rules written into the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to lower the cost of and increase access to HIV treatment, Intellectual Property Watch reports.

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The 1994 TRIPS agreement "constructed a strong IP enforcement system" but left "flexibilities" to allow developing countries "to soften any negative impacts of stricter enforcement and ensure they retained the ability to take actions in their own best interest," the news service writes. However, some developed countries, where the majority of IP rights owners operate, have "discouraged" the use of the agreement's flexibilities "and pressure not to use them has been intense especially on emerging markets," according to IP Watch (New, 3/15). For instance, as the Guardian's "Global Health Blog" notes, "The U.N. fears that free-trade deals," such as the ongoing negotiations between the EU and India, "will put obstacles in the way" of India using the TRIPS flexbilities to produce less-expensive medications (Boseley, 3/15).

"We are seriously concerned about the future of HIV treatment programmes," UNAIDS Executive Director Paul De Lay said, according to a UNAIDS press release. "Only about one-third of people in need have access to treatment," he added. With tightening budgets due to the current economic environment, De Lay emphasized, "Countries must use all the means at their disposal, including the TRIPS flexibilities, to ensure sustainability and the significant scale-up of HIV services to reach people most in need."

"UNAIDS, UNDP and WHO will continue to support countries, on their request, to increase access to treatment and provide technical assistance to implement the TRIPS flexibilities to scale up access to antiretroviral medicine," the UNAIDS release notes (3/15).

The IP Watch article includes reactions to the policy brief by Michelle Childs of Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF); Ellen 't Hoen, executive director of the Medicines Patent Pool; Andrew Jenner, director of innovation, intellectual property and trade at the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA); and Sunjay Sudhir, the Indian representative to the WTO on TRIPS issues (3/15).

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