People in developing nations living with chronic diseases like HIV/Aids and cancer will soon have access to generic drugs following the approval of the World Trade Organisation’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Right (Trips) Agreement.
Over 65 per cent of WTO members have submitted their instruments of acceptance of the Trips protocol, which will come into force once two-thirds of the members formally accept it. The ratification process picked up in 2016.
In East Africa, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda were the first to ratify the protocol, while Tanzania ratified it in December last year.
This will now be formally built into the Trips Agreement when two-thirds of WTO’s members have accepted the change.
“Although there is no set timeline, the amendment is expected to enter into force early this year,” said Ankai Xu, WTO information officer.
The Trips Agreement would allow exporting countries to grant compulsory licences — which do not require the patent holder’s consent — to manufacturers and suppliers of generic drugs to export to countries that cannot manufacture the medicine themselves.
About half of the population of these countries that cannot manufacture the medicine themselves live on less than $1 a day and suffer a much higher disease burden than those living in rich countries.
“It is a very important agreement because it enables developing countries that do not have the capacity to manufacture pharmaceuticals, to have affordable access to them by importing from third parties, without infringing on intellectual property rights,” said Ms Xu.
“The reason why the process has taken so long is because some potential exporting countries have to change their laws to use the system, and domestic legislation can be a lengthy process. However, WTO members are allowed to export medicine to countries in need under the 2003 waiver even when the permanent amendment is not yet in place,” she added.
On December 6, 2005, WTO members approved the first amendment to the Trips agreement, making a decision on patents and public health, originally adopted in 2003, permanent. The amendment limits drugs production to the domestic market.