Patent Rights, Patient Rights: The WHO’s Role in the Intersection of Public Health and Innovation

Ms. Susanne Weber-Mosdorf

Access to antiretroviral drugs for HIV patients in the developing world has increased 12-fold since 2003. Unprecedented 5.2 million people in low- and middle-income countries are receiving treatment today. A remaining 5 million people are left in these countries without treatment to date. While such statistics show that communicable diseases like HIV remain of critical concern, the developing world is also facing an important transition toward non-communicable diseases, essentially creating a double disease burden. Whilst this burden means that 80 percent of world deaths from chronic diseases are found in the developing world, it also manifests the increased need for expensive second-line medication to treat HIV/AIDS patients who have become resistant to first-line drugs. These changes beg the question: what will access to medicines signify in the years to come? While intellectual property is just one among other economic, social and political determinants of access to medicine, its importance is clear. Patents bring about innovations in medicine and health service delivery, but they only work if the companies can expect a return on investment and thus do not trigger the necessary research for neglected diseases where most of the patients are poor. The task of reconciling innovation with public health has been a challenge for the World Health Organization since the mid-1990s. Over the years long negotiations have resulted in the adoption in 2008 of a Global Strategy and Plan of Action on Public Health, Innovation and Intellectual Property. This presentation will look in-depth at some of the key elements of this seminal approach, and its meaning for continued global trends.