Millions of people worldwide suffer from deadly but curable diseases but are unable to undergo treatment because of prohibitive drug costs. The exercise of the basic human right to public health services is difficult to acquire especially in developing countries that are unable to make or import generic drugs which are much cheaper than the essential brand-name drugs. Patents had made an extensive impact on the prices of drugs.
The establishment of the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement in the World Trade Organization in 1995 had made it compulsory for WTO members to include medicines for product and process patent (Khor). The monopoly of 20 years allowed by patents to companies had caused many essential drugs for curable diseases unaffordable for patients, more so in developing countries where majority of the population belongs to the low-income earning sector.
Public health and development organizations have supported promotion of generic drugs for treatment of patients to address the very limited access to patented drugs for the last decade. The excessive prices of medicines for treatment of patients with HIV-AIDS, as a case in point, that can cost as high as US$ 10,000-15,000 every year in developed countries, can be provided by generic producers in developing countries at a cost of US$ 3,000 (Khor). Of the people infected with HIV, 95% of these live at developing countries with sub-Saharan Africa being one of the world’s most infected regions (James, 2001).
While the generic drugs may provide alternative options at cheaper costs, the conflicting understanding of developing countries in the TRIPS Agreement makes it hard to implement local national policies with regard to pharmaceutical drugs. TRIPS Agreement does provide certain flexibilities that proclaim not preventing member countries from taking measures to protect public health and promote access to medicines for all by having the right to grant compulsory licenses to companies to manufacture or import generic versions of patented drugs.
As these statements were later emphasized in the DOHA Agreement of 2001 that developing country members have the right to grant compulsory licenses on patented medicines and the freedom to determine the grounds upon which licenses are granted (Rimmington). The WTO member countries, including the United States, have joined in consensus to adopt the DOHA Declaration in 2001 but unfortunately there have been several incidents that were in contrast to the spirit of the Declaration.
The U. S. administration, in particular, had been negotiating bilateral trade agreements that restrict the use of TRIPS flexibilities (Rimmington). Measures that prohibit drug regulatory agencies from granting marketing to a generic version of a patented medicine or the extensions of patent beyond the 20 years monopoly protection of WTO are some actions taken by the administration that has entered into in its trade deals with developing countries (Rimmington). Thailand had taken the lead in issuing compulsory licenses and had made it possible for essential medicines accessible to Thais and other people around the world.