Poor countries are allowed to import generic medicines, World Trade Organization (WTO) Director General Roberto Azevedo told Reuters on Monday, after the required two-thirds of members agreed a deal that has taken more than a decade to finalise.
The amendment to the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreement gives the world’s most vulnerable people access to drugs for diseases such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, Azevedo said later in a statement.
“The TRIPS amendment is coming into force today,” he said, referring to the first ever amendment to the 1995 WTO rules and one that cements what was a temporary waiver allowing countries that cannot produce their own generic medicines to import them.
Azevedo said WTO agreements should not work in a vacuum and should also support development and better livelihoods around the world, complementing other goals such as environmental policy and public health.
WHO chief Margaret Chan welcomed the amendment but said much still remained to be done to make drugs, whether patented or off-patent, affordable and accessible.
“We are a long way from reaching global equity in access to medicines, especially at a time when the costs of some new treatments are unsustainable even in the richest countries in the world,” she said.
The original TRIPS agreement allowed governments of poor and developing countries to produce generic medicines for their domestic markets without the patent owners’ consent, under so-called “compulsory licensing” arrangements.
But that still meant poorer countries without manufacturing capacity could not access those drugs because there was no provision for importing them.
In 2003, WTO members agreed to give such countries a temporary waiver, which has been renewed every two years. In 2005, they agreed to make the waiver permanent, subject to the agreement of two-thirds of the WTO’s 164 members.