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Access to Medicines: Ensuring People’s Rights
A Discussion Paper


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The WTO has amended the rules on intellectual property rights to recognise that the rights of countries to address public health concerns should come before those of patent holders. Unfortunately, recognition and implementation remain very far apart. A variety of reasons, including technicalities, lack of capacity, charity and armtwisting, mean that in practice patent holders often win out. The rights of poor countries to protect their health systems will be further curtailed after January 2005. This paper provides an analysis of the prospects that poor countries face in exercising their rights to address public health concerns, raises questions on whether charity should be a substitute for rights, looks at how the access to medicines agenda has been narrowly interpreted, and examines the implications of this for poor people in developing countries. Recommendations are made that access to HIV/AIDS medicines be made available in the spirit of the WTO provisions, rather than in a manner that robs poor countries of the opportunity to access the medicines they need.

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