New York — The Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and UN Development Programme (UNDP) called today for renewing a provision that allows the world's poorest countries access to life-saving drugs at costs they can afford, ahead of talks on the issue in Geneva next week.
In a new brief, they argue that failing to extend an internationally agreed transition period for poor countries to comply fully with the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) could jeopardize access to lifesaving HIV/AIDS treatment and other essential drugs for those who need them most.
The 49 UN-designated Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are home to some of the world's most vulnerable people and bear considerable health burdens. In 2011, some 9.7 million of the 34 million people living with HIV worldwide were in these countries. Of that number, 4.6 million were eligible for antiretroviral treatment, in accordance with 2010 World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, but only 2.5 million were receiving it.
LDCs also face a disproportionately high burden in non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and diabetes. Data from low-income countries suggest cancer will increase by 82 percent from 2008-2030, compared with 40 percent in high-income countries that have widespread access to vaccines and medications.
"Access to affordable HIV treatment and other essential medicines is vital if Least Developed Countries are to achieve the health-related and other Millennium Development Goals," UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said.
UNAIDS and UNDP today urged WTO Members to give urgent consideration to the continued special needs and requirements of LDCs.
"An extension would allow the world's poorest nations to ensure sustained access to medicines, build up viable technology bases, and manufacture or import the medicines they need," UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé said.
The TRIPS Agreement was introduced in 1995 as a means of protecting intellectual property rights on a global scale. But patent protection is one factor pushing up drug costs, putting many essential treatments beyond the reach of LDCs.
To address this, WTO members retained key options in the TRIPS Agreement--such as granting LDCs a 10-year transition phase to comply fully with TRIPS. The second extension of that deadline is set to expire 31 July 2013. A proposal to the TRIPS Council, submitted on behalf of LDCs, seeks a further extension so long as a country remains an LDC. The TRIPS Council in Geneva is set to discuss the proposal 5-6 March.
UNAIDS and UNDP encourage all WTO Members to consider the full range of possible public health, economic, and development benefits of such an extension.