Agencies Talk Cooperation On Medicines Access; Stakeholders Cautious19/07/2010 by Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch 1 CommentShare this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)IP-Watch is a non-profit independent news service and depends on subscriptions. To access all of our content, please subscribe now. You may also offer additional support with your subscription, or donate.Key international agencies for health, trade and intellectual property on Friday jointly organised a symposium on access to medicines in an effort to gather information and expertise as a basis for a collaborative response to the challenges of public health. The joint technical symposium on “access to medicines: pricing and procurement practices” organised by the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization, and the World Intellectual Property Organization, was held on 16 July and gathered different health actors.WTO Director General Pascal Lamy said the WTO is working on several aspects of trade policy which have direct relevance to public health policy, but he indicated that substantive discussion of the WTO’s intellectual property agreement was not on the table for discussion at the symposium.The aim of the symposium was not “to establish a parallel policy forum, nor to assess or debate existing legal instruments, not to come up with policy recommendation,” Lamy said. He also specified that “no connection is planned or intended between this process and the ongoing policy and legal debates within the WTO about the scope and effect of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) flexibilities, especially on the work of the TRIPS Council.” Further, the symposium “is not part of the TRIPS Council review process,” he added.The main intent was to enhance the cooperation of the three institutions on public health and the intellectual property regime with an aim of strengthening their common knowledge base and practical coordination on pressing public health matters. Participants used the opportunity to present their organisations’ work on the issues.WHO Director General Margaret Chan said that access to medicines at WHO was possibly the most heated and potentially explosive debate, reflecting a strong indication of the importance of access to essential health intervention, such as medicine, vaccines and diagnostic. However, discussions on access to medicines often turn to questions of prices, patents, intellectual property protection and competition.Debates are often clouded with suspicions that the economic interests might overrun public health concerns, that rights of patent holders are more important than the right to health. “Countries seeking to use the flexibilities under TRIPS fear that they will be punished by trade sanctions imposed in retaliation,” she said. Chan said she welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with her “brother” organisations, as they jointly work towards more efficient procurement policies, pricing and intellectual property from a public health perspective.Patents as PlusWIPO Director General Francis Gurry echoed that the objective of the event was an enhanced cooperation between the three agencies, to have a better empirical basis for improved policy process. IP is playing a fundamental role in the debate on access to medicine, he said, as “any new medicine will come from innovation.” There is a need for better knowledge tools in order to address the issue, Gurry said, such as the WIPO Patentscope, which has four million patent applications.Konji Sebati of WIPO said the patent system is a way to access important scientific information, which otherwise could remain secret. She also highlighted WIPO’s services.Patents as ProblemYehudah Livneh of the International Generic Pharmaceutical Alliance said access to high quality, affordable generic drugs is an essential part of the solution. Patents are a major issue for access, he said, “a bigger issue than what we have been led to believe today.” A list of patents, such as the WIPO Patentscope, is a “nice step forward, but is it not enough.” Not just one patent covers a product but many, he noted. “Some of those patents are important and can be appealed in court, some others can be circumvented,” he said. Identifying patents is very difficult, it is a major undertaking, he said, patents are not the same from country to country; the scope varies. Even if some patents are listed, “you do not have to wait until the last patent expires,” he said.Separately, on 15 June, a number of civil society organisations such as the Open Society Institute, Médecins Sans Frontières, Universities Allied for Essential Medicines, the Third World Network, and Health Action International Africa released the “Berkeley Declaration on Intellectual Property Enforcement and Access to Medicines.” Timed to be issued just before the symposium, the declaration warns about “the recent IP enforcement agenda” promoted in different fora, such as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement negotiations, bilateral and regional free trade agreements negotiations with the European Union, the World Customs Organization SECURE project, and the WHO International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT), in which “public safety is being cynically used as a pretext to promote these initiatives.”A number of different types of participants told Intellectual Property Watch that they saw the symposium as positive. One source said that although patents were presented as a potential barrier to access to medicine during the symposium, the patent system was not challenged. Another participant said that coherence between organisations is a good thing but the symposium lacked policy discussions and position taking. A diplomat said that the event was positive but it remained to be seen what it led to.Presentations during the day also covered other issues related to patents, procurement, and pricing.Ruth Dreifuss, former Swiss federal councillor and former chairperson of the WHO Commission on Intellectual Property, Innovation and Public Health said that this was a promising day. The three agencies “know they have to collaborate” as they share a common responsibility, she said, but international organisations can only succeed if they complement the information coming from their member states with information from other stakeholders.Share this Story:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Google+ (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)RelatedCatherine Saez may be reached at email@example.com."Agencies Talk Cooperation On Medicines Access; Stakeholders Cautious" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.