Contrasting Views: Recent Publications on Access to Medicines

by Adriana Benedict

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO), World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and World Trade Organization (WTO) released a trilateral study on Promoting Access to Medical Technologies and Innovation: Intersections between public health, intellectual property and trade.  According to the official summary of the book, the publication is aimed at policy makers and is divided into four parts:

I. Fundamentals: the background of health policy and medical technology, the work of the three organizations, the burden of disease that challenges health policy, and the factors shaping that policy.  Much attention has been paid to diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, but noncommunicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart diseases are a rising challenge.
II. The Policy Context: the international framework, linking health policy, intellectual property and trade, the contributions of economic analysis, and the use of traditional medical knowledge in research.
III. Innovation in Greater Detail: the evolution of research and development, alternative ways of promoting innovation for neglected diseases, the role of intellectual property rights, with examples.
IV. Access: how to ensure pharmaceuticals and other medical technology reach the people who need them: pricing policies, taxes and import duties, procurement, regulation, technology transfer, local production, patents, compulsory and voluntary licences, trade agreements, and competition policies, etc.

In her remarks at the launch of the publication, WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan emphasized the importance of the public interest not only in public health, but also intellectual property and trade policy.  Importantly, Dr. Chan noted that it “is worth considering” an extension of the TRIPS Agreement (WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property) transition deadline (currently set to July 1, 2013) for least-developed countries (LDCs) to implement the agreement’s provisions.

In stark contrast, last week the Journal of Economic Perspectives released an empirical study by two Federal Reserve economists calling for the abolition of the patent system. Continue reading