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Drug Companies Should Ease Patent Protection, Enforcement to Ensure Drug Access in Developing Countries, WHO Report Says

April 5, 2006

Pharmaceutical companies should ease patent protection and enforcement in developing countries to ensure wider access to drugs, according to a report released on Monday by the World Health Organization's Commission on Intellectual Property Rights, Innovation and Public Health, the Financial Times reports (Williams, Financial Times, 4/3). WHO established the commission in 2004 to examine the impact of intellectual property right protections on efforts to address neglected diseases. According to former Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss, chair of the commission, the report provides a plan to ensure that low-income people "have sustainable access to the medicines, vaccines and diagnostics they need now and, critically, in the future."

Report Recommendations
The report, which contains more than 50 recommendations, advises developing nations to fully examine their options provided under international patent agreements, including World Trade Organization rules concerning compulsory licensing (Dickson,, 4/3). The report recommends that pharmaceutical companies avoid acquiring patent rights in developing countries because they can increase the cost of medications and hamper access to needed drugs. It also says that drug makers should allow generic copies of their products to be manufactured for mass marketing (Cage, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 4/3). In addition, wealthy nations should not strengthen protections provided under intellectual property rights to a point that they limit access to drugs, the report says. It adds that increased consideration should be given to HIV/AIDS drugs and medications for other communicable diseases (Reuters, 4/3). The report does not recommend any major changes to the international patent system and instead stresses the need and potential for country-level action (, 4/3). The report also calls on the 192 WHO-member states to create a global action plan to address the issues associated with funding for neglected diseases (Reuters, 4/3). The report will be delivered to WHO's Executive Board later this month and to the World Health Assembly in May (, 4/3).

According to London's Guardian, the pharmaceutical industry has said that the lack of clinics, hospitals and medical staff, not patent rights, are the primary reasons people cannot access treatment in developing countries (Boseley, Guardian, 4/4). The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations said that it agrees with 70% of the report's recommendations, but it criticized the report's recommendation that developing countries utilize compulsory licenses to override patent rights (Reuters, 4/3).

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