unitaid[UNITAID Press Release, Link]   UNITAID is concerned about the expiry of the ‘pharmaceuticals exemption’ for least-developed countries (LDCs) which originates from the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health.  Due to this exemption, least developed countries (LDCs) are not obliged to grant or enforce patents and data protection for pharmaceuticals.

“As an organization that funds projects to improve access to medicines for HIV, TB and malaria in 94 countries, including many LDCs, UNITAID strongly supports the request by the least-developed counties for an extension of the transition period for pharmaceuticals.” said Lelio Marmora, Executive Director of UNITAID. “This exemption has facilitated access to affordable medicines in LDCs, and UNITAID urges WTO Members to unconditionally approve the request by the LDCs.”

The TRIPS Agreement makes it mandatory for countries to grant patents, including for medicines. “Patents can spur innovation, but can also delay generic competition, and have a negative impact on access to medicines, especially in poor countries.”

However, TRIPS also contains a number of flexibilities and safeguards. These flexibilities can be, and have been, used to ensure access to medicines – clearly an important social and public health objective for many WTO Members, as well as for the international community. The flexibilities and safeguards essentially relate to instances where countries have the freedom to interpret, define or defer the implementation of certain provisions of the Agreement.

One of the most important flexibilities for least developed countries (LDCs) is that they are not obliged to implement key sections of the TRIPS Agreement – notably the granting of patents and the provision of data protection – with regards to pharmaceuticals. This exemption will expire at the end of this year. Yet LDCs still face many constraints with regard to ensuring access to medicines for their populations. In this context, LDCs have requested an extension of this important exemption “until they cease to be a least developed country”.

“UNITAID believes that it is crucial that countries can make use of ‘TRIPS flexibilities’ in order to safeguard access to medicines.” said Mr Marmora “This certainly should apply to the most vulnerable members of the international community: the LDCs.”